|Josephine March (wordsmith) wrote in rp_tutorials,|
@ 2012-09-12 22:13:00
While this was originally written for the Gotham Falls game (gotham_mod ), where the Nolanization of comic characters is quite relevant, I think it might be rather useful for anyone looking to write in a darker, gritty world filled with hardship.
There has been lots of tutorials posted here about how to write good, multi-layered, well-researched, soundly motivated characters. This addition deals with creating characters that have messed up lives and suffering from the the results of living in dark places.
When interviewed about Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan said 'this is a world without superheroes'. Yeah, breathe it in. In this world, superheroes don't exist. In this Gotham, only real people. And real people don't do things wholly without reason, they don't go bat-shit insane for no reason, they don't love justice without reason and they don't want to hurt others without reason.
The extraordinary nature of most comic characters can make it tricky to transfer them into a world where superheroes don't exist; take away their strength, ability to fly, magic power or fancy red underpants worn outside clothing, and you might feel like there is nothing left. When I began trying to convert my DC hero into a normal person, I had no idea where to start - hence this list.
The first suggestion: Take what you have and spin it another few laps. Nothing is ever simple in the Nolanverse, and if shit happens, it happens.
Character X had an unhappy childhood.
Character X lost a parent in an accident.
Character X lost both parents in a car accident.
Character X lost both parents as collateral damage in an accident that targeted someone else.
Character X became a ward of the state when her parent's taxi was blown up in a fight between Batman and the Joker.
(If you want a villain with a cause to hate Batman, that is a practical, realistic way that he might have ruined her life.)
If there are good things, outbalance them with bad – in the Nolanverse, happiness is fleeting. Even if Bruce Wayne is rich and handsome, he has few things he truly cherishes – no family, no friends, no wife, no children.
Real people don't go to bed happy, snuggling with the concept of justice. It's more likely they take a handful of sleeping pills and then spend a night struggling with everything that the fight for justice has taken from them! Show how the badness affects their lives and their personalities, show what repercussions goodness or badness has and put the conflict right in their hearts. Nolanized characters are conflicted people.
How can their superpower, mega strength or divinity be turned into something a real world person would do or know? Batman has always been a very self-made hero, without much 'super' to put in front. If your character has a more extraordinary background in the comics, compare to Batman and see how you can make him or her more human.
If they have super strength, maybe they are addicted to exercise, perhaps even taking steroids? If they are divine, maybe they have one great personality trait, like goodness, a strong sense of morality, or intelligence – and then the rest of their traits work against that. If they have weapons or fighting training, the question is not so much how, rather if they'd be willing to use it against other people. Could they stand wounding someone? Killing them? Killing another human being is very different from sparring in karate class.
Obviously Gotham isn't a good place, but not only do we know it – so must our characters. While it is gritty to the max, at one point your character must've made a decision to go there, or to stay. Why? What is their relationship to Gotham? Why did they move here or why do they stay when shit went down? How do they feel when they go out at night – how do they behave in the streets? What steps have they taken to protect themselves?
Gotham is also full of lies and deceit, and few people has the clarity of sight to know what is true. Unlike you when you watch the movies and get everything lined up and explained in the end, people living down there will be confused as hell.
Think about what you know about your home town? How sure can you be about things? What and who do you doubt? Then apply this liberally to your character's view of the world.
What lies has your character fallen for, because in a city full of lies, your character will have accepted some. How does that affect their outlook on the city? Do they believe in Harvey Dent? Do they trust someone they shouldn't? Are they afraid of the police instead of the thugs? What things are they suspicious of? Why?
Furthermore, what is your character's opinion about Gotham, and the state of it's police, hospitals, politicians and vigilantes? What do they think about the corruption and the gangs? How do they think it should be solved? Remember it's only human to assume you know best, so they are likely to have an opinion, and even argue for their (wrong?) point of view.
Everyone in Gotham has a dark side, whether it comes out or not, and even though the character doesn't know where the line is drawn for them – it helps if you do.
What is needed to push your character over the edge? Watching a loved one die? Being forced to kill someone? Being unable to save a loved one as they were tortured or raped? Being forced to cook rats and feed to your starving two-year old?
What is this dark side? Would they become mad? Bitter? Uncaring? Turn into a villain? Kill themselves? Again, it might not happen, but if you see clearly what dark depths lurk inside your character, that gives another layer to him or her.
Does your character have any addictions? Debts? The ordinary people, and especially those in the lower spectrum of society probably have to deal with this. If you have no other way to make money, you might borrow from a mobster. If you have a hard life, you might want to escape into drugs.
Don't be afraid to give your character an ugly trait like an addiction, it can be fantastic to play out, bringing depth, life and chances for growth. Perhaps it makes them less attractive to you, but it will increase their believability (= attraction) to others.
Likewise if they are in debt, that gives motivation and new ways to play with other characters. How does it affect friends? Loved ones? Who is your dealer or holding your debt? What steps do you take to find more drugs or pay off the money?
In the movies, Gotham is shown as a city where shit hits the fan, almost 24-7. Thugs rob and murder, mob bosses try to pick up girls, banks are robbed, Batman crashes fifteen police cars during a chase, cat burglars and vigilantes make headlines in the newspaper.
Chance is, if your character is out and about, they have crossed paths with the aftermath some of these incidents. Try to imagine a living city where things happen every day and every night. Has your character gotten in the way of it? Has it affected their family, friends or workplace? If so, how did it affect them, what did it make them feel and did it in any way change their path through life?
In the Nolanverse Bruce Wayne assembled and built his costume, gear and gadgets himself (he even made the bat shaped shurikens!). While he had Lucius Fox to help him, you won't so ignore that. There were no superhero deliveries, no Q, no Justice League. In this way it has a lot in common with the superheroes of the movie Kick Ass, if you want a practical comparison.
So, what has your character done to get his or her gear? Are they talented enough to build or sew or wire things? Did they need help – if so, who helped them? If it breaks, who mends it? If it is a pyjamas and a ski mask, say so – that is fine, after all, if you suddenly decided to become a vigilante, what would you use?
The Nolanization litmus test
Think of Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, the Scarecrow , Harvey Dent, Bane, the Joker - then your character. Does he or she give you the same feeling?
(No, this is in no way an exact method, and if you are overly critical of your own work it can be impossible. Try then to show your character to a very honest friend and then asking them that question.) If your character comes across as too high-school movie, too Sin City or too Sound of Music, you are probably going in the wrong direction.
A few notes about Gotham city
In the movies we get lots of hints about life in the city and how it affects people. Some are disillusioned like Jim Gordon, others are more resigned like Rachel Dawes. The mood of the city, and the way it's inhabitants speak about it is a good hint about what has happened to your character. In order to compile this I re-watched Batman Begins (not a hardship) and took notes, so there are some direct quotes.
The Urbanism of Superheroes
"Both these ur-superheroes were recently re-imagined for Twenty-First Century film audiences and their urban settings updated. The phone booths are gone from Metropolis, and the scale and squalor of Gotham's slums has grown even more horrible. The realist pessimism of Gotham and the idealist optimism of Metropolis are attitudes about city life that have their origins in the very earliest moments of the modern world..."
How Bane Will Fit Into Chris Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight Rises’
"As he has demonstrated with his previous Batman films, Christopher Nolan likes to keep things firmly based in reality. That’s one of the things that has made his Batman movies so good (for some). Is it realistic that a billionaire playboy goes out at night to fight crime as a masked vigilante? Of course not. But in Nolan’s movies, you believe that it’s at least possible, which makes the story and characters that much more engaging.
Given Nolan’s penchant for realism, a steroid-enhance super-genius like Bane doesn’t seem like he would fit..."
Calling Christopher Nolan
"Rather than emphasize the fun of being a superhero, they would focus more on the burdens, and would depict their protagonists as fallible, emotionally tormented outsiders struggling in vain to protect their morally bankrupt cities. Tonally, this would mark a deliberate departure from the general spirit of their comic book roots."
Think of the worst thing that can happen your character. Then think of the next worst thing. Pick one and apply, then describe how it affects them and all aspects of their life.