Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hark, the Lark Arc!

Last night, the Abigail and I brought the first run of Lark sessions to a close (actually the second arc, but "Hark, the Second Lark Arc!" just lacks a certain... not-lameness).

Lark is a character for White Wolf's Exalted (see here for the official page, not that it contains much), an epic fantasy game of adventure, heroism, hope, and corruption. In Exalted, you portray the chosen of the gods, blessed with the potential for incredible power, cursed with overweening passion and burdened with the welfare of Creation (the setting's name for itself).

One of the things that makes Exalted such a brilliant game is that it has so many levels. You can play Exalted for action-adventure (I mean, you're playing an incandescent demigod), you can play it for serious drama (I mean, you're playing a cursed incandescent demigod) and you can play it for pathos (I mean, you're playing a cursed, overwhelmingly passionate incandescent demigod). The game also has subtle threads of transhumanism lying just beneath the surface and the potential to tell large-scale stories about cultural change and nation-building.

Lark (a catchy chronicle name is still pending. The Abigail couldn't care less about naming our games, so it falls to me; in the meantime, the game is named after the character) is about a young girl from an island tribe who's voice was sacrificed to the island's god... who later turned out to be actually a soul-eating faerie, right before Lark killed him. Since then, Lark has been wandering Creation, putting wrongs right and and getting into trouble.

The biggest writerly challenge in Lark has been the issue of Lark's voicelessness. Lark lacked the ability to speak for the entire first arc, between leaving her island for the first time and returning to deal with her people's false god and put an end to his deprivations once and for all, after which she got her voice back.

It was rough. As the storyteller (which is, in some sense, the writer of the game - at least, one of the writers) I was torn between making things too easy and making things too hard.

How too easy? If enough people in Lark's environment were able to communicate with her, either by learning her sign language or writing what she wrote on her chalk board, her silence lost it's punch. Her terrible sacrifice - she had been a singer, raised by a people who valued beauty and music - would be meaningless, and when she finally killed her god and reclaimed her voice (something I was planning from the beginning) it would be an anticlimax.

If it totally sucks to make it too easy, then, where's the temptation? The trouble with a character that cannot speak is that it cuts down on the possibilities for dialog. If you game (and write) like I do, dialog is the heart of stories. In dialog, characters change and display their change. In dialog, future actions are foreshadowed and information is disseminated to the audience. Most importantly, in dialog, I have a fun time writing and roleplaying. Making a silent character's life too rough threatens to tear the soul out of the story.

Lark was a challenge, and I can't say I hit every ball out of the park. However, I think I have discovered a few keys to writing silent characters as primary protagonists:

  1. Provide the character with someone - anyone - to talk to. Do it quickly. You can take the person away eventually (though be sure to give him - or a voice - back soon). In a roleplaying game, this probably means an NPC who can communicate with the character. In writing, you have more options. Giving the character a habit of talking to himself internally, like a noir character's internal monologue, might help. Another option might be to write frequent flashbacks to when the character could/did talk. The longer a character goes from the beginning of the story without being able to talk, the less your audience will know or care about this person.
  2. Make sure the character suffers from her silence on a fairly regular basis (since that's why you made him silent, right?), but make sure it isn't always by wanting to communicate something and being incapable of it. While botched communication is the meat and drink of drama, attempting the same drama with a character who simply can't talk is ham-fisted if you do it too much. Instead, try to find ways for the character's silence to be a challenge in more subtle and interesting ways.
  3. A character's silence is no excuse not to pepper her dialog with descriptors! With Lark, Abby and I both talked about how Lark emoted with her hands and body, whether she was using sign language, writing on her chalkboard, or just standing around (or, at one point, sitting on the ship's railing and playing magically-empowered heartbreaking music on her flute).

Well, now Lark can talk. And so - after a brief flirtation with silence - can her boyfriend. This island girl has found an enemy in the most personally dangerous ghost in Creation and a stalker in a faerie queen (a very bad thing), and she's been to hell and has plans to visit heaven. Best of all, Lark has her eye on the throne of Creation. Empress Lark... it has a nice ring to it.

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  • Have you ever tried to write, play, or run for a silent character? What challenges did you face and what rewards did you find?
  • What do you think should happen next in Lark?

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Two closing notes.

First of all, it's growing difficult to post every day of the week, and I might - might - slow down to once a week. This wouldn't be too bad for the Burning Zeppelin. A lot of bloggers post even less frequently. I'm going to keep at it for as long as I can, though. There's something really cool about watching that post count go up up up!

Secondly, recent events have led me to reconsider my stance on doing NaNoWriMo this year. Basically, the Abigail might be NaNoing this year, and this might be only year in the immediate future when we could NaNo together. There's something really sweet and romantic about running the writer's marathon as a couple, and it's attractive enough that I'm willing to find a way to do it without losing steam Rat and Starling. There were some good comments on my previous post about NaNoWriMo, and I won't be the only one working on more than one novel at a time.

Of course, faithful readers, I'll keep you posted on both developing developments as they develop.

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