Character and exposition

Listening to: “Walk on Water” – Cascada

Okay, my last post was getting long, and this wasn’t quite on the same topic as what I was blogging about in the last one.

While writing, I got on a tangent about exposition in JRPGs. That came from thinking about one of the earliest and most annoying methods of character development in Persona 3 Portable: bloody Takeba Yukari.

Yukari accuses Junpeiof trying to pick up on girls, being stupid… While it’s true that he flirts, he mostly just comes off as a guy who is comfortable around the opposite sex, and secure enough that he doesn’t mind acting like a fool. What Yukari says feels like propaganda to me.

You could argue that it’s just Yukari’s opinion, but part of the problem is that she’s the only one who really talks about him much. Considering how heavily Japanese media relies on telling, in spite of whatever focus there is on visuals, what players are told absolutely is what we’re supposed to believe. Maybe I’m being harsh, but I think it could actually have something to do with the common method of exposition.

When I write, nearly everything can be used to develop and/or understand the characters. What they do, how they move, what they notice, even the words that are used in a third person narrative.

Take these two examples:

1. Liam Townsend-Farquhar

  • Setbacks were to be expected. Liam watched Jack go, jaw clenched. He wasn’t worried. He was merely being thorough. Whatever move Jack made next was absolutely crucial.

Here, we have third person narrative. But there are still plenty of things to tell us about his character. The statement about setbacks tells us that he’s pragmatic, but the clenched jaw and repetitive declarations that he isn’t worried and has things under control show that he may be able to weather a lot and probably has seen his share of failure.

2. Annie Holt

  • The city stretched out from the bus station like fingers from a palm. Rather, it was as though the bus station were the heel of the hand. Connected. Important. But not central.

This snippet, while from a story written in first person, is her opinion on what she sees. Still plenty to extract. She comes up with a way to explain what she’s looking at, then steps back to redefine it, and then explains why. She’s interested in saying what she means, and in knowing exactly what that is in any case. You can infer plenty of things from that kind of attitude.

It amazes me that when playing a video game, when showing should be easy, I can see more “Character A is like this because Character B said” storytelling than my worst early stories.

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