owlmoose: (da - hawke)
KJ ([personal profile] owlmoose) wrote2014-01-24 15:18

Creating the Protagonist: January Blogging Meme

After I answer this question, only one more remains. Any other requests?

Today's question (well, actually yesterday's, but who's counting?) comes from [personal profile] stealth_noodle, who wanted my thoughts on characterizing customizable video game protagonists in fic. I've been thinking about this question off and on ever since it was asked, because I think it's a pretty fascinating one. It's definitely an issue that comes up in Dragon Age fandom quite a bit (and I imagine Mass Effect fandom as well). How much flexibility is there for a fanfic writer when characterizing a Warden, or a Hawke, or a Shepard? Are there defined lines that we need to play within? Or is the protagonist essentially an original character, giving us total freedom to make them whoever we want?

Of course, there are some fic writers who feel free to say "Canon? Pffft, I do want I want" and take any character in the direction they like, not just customizable protagonist characters. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, but that's not the kind of fic writer I am. For me, the interesting thing about fanfic is finding new and interesting things to do with characters and story within the structure that the canon provides. Even when I write a story with an AU premise, I try to keep events and characterization as close to canon as possible. Then again, can one even say that there is such a thing as "canon" for the Warden, or for Hawke?* As a general rule, I would say yes, but it's such a broad space of possible canons that there's a lot of room for flexibility. (More so for the Warden than for Hawke -- the Warden has a set backstory, different for each Origin, but personality-wise, they are essentially a tabula rasa. Hawke, on the other hand, does have an in-game personality, although the player has a hand in creating it.)

When it comes to writing the protagonist characters into my own work, I'm almost always writing about a particular Warden or Hawke -- one that I created myself, usually through the course of playing a full game. If I write about Sereda Aeducan, for example, she's not a generic female dwarf noble. She's the Warden I spent over a hundred hours with, playing through DA: Origins, Awakening, Golems, and Witch Hunt. The story is her story, set within her canon and reflecting the choices she made and the outcomes she discovered, or an AU with a purposeful divergence. When I decided to write Justify the Means, an AU about a very different kind of female Aeducan, I actually created a new character and played through her origin. This is why I don't write fic about Tabris, or Amell, or male Cousland, etc.: I've never played a Warden of that background, so I don't know who they are, or how to tell their stories properly. There've been a very few exceptions, mostly when writing to prompts or plot bunnies that don't suit any of my current Wardens, but writing a specific Warden whom I already know is much more within my comfort zone.

I can have a little more flexibility with a Hawke, as long as the Hawke isn't central to the story. For example, I wrote a few stories featuring a male Hawke before I ever played through my Garrett's canon, so I had to come up with a generic Garrett Hawke to fill that role. But as with the Wardens, I'm much happier if I have a known Hawke to work with (diplomatic rogue Marian, aggressive mage Marissa, snarky warrior Garrett) and am unlikely to put a generic Hawke into a starring role.

Although there are exceptions, from what I've seen, I think most fic writers who work with the protagonist characters in these kinds of canons do something similar. They aren't writing stories about A Warden or A Hawke or A Shepard, they're writing about their Warden/Hawke/Shepard. Some feel more bound to follow the canonical background and events of the games than others, but it's still where the seed of the character arises. In my case, as you might expect, I do use canon as my foundation -- I am very unlikely to create headcanons for my player characters that directly contradict the events of the game, although sometimes I'll fudge things a little for the sake of storytelling.

So in a way, it's not really that different for me than writing other characters. The main difference is that I had a part in creating the original canon, and that is most definitely part of the fun.

*There's also a larger question about what "canon" even means in a universe as flexible as that of Dragon Age, where outcomes and characterizations change based on player choices, and even more options open up when modding gets involved, but that's another conversation for another day.
vieralynn: (Default)

[personal profile] vieralynn 2014-01-24 23:33 (UTC)(link)
All of this is interesting and makes me think about a post I've been meaning to write on the relationship between fanfic and novelization in video game fandoms.

For games like the DA series, I've seen a lot of fanfic that fits into the category you are describing: writing about YOUR warden or YOUR Hawke within the constraints of canon, which is definitely a form of video game novelization although it has the potential for being far more interesting than commercial novelizations because it is highly personalized. On the other hand, I've read a lot fiction (and have also written fiction) that is about A Hawke that falls on the edge of novelization or outside the scope of novelization. I know a bunch of fans who have no interest in reading novelizations and would much rather read about something "original" that isn't offered within the canonical path of the games and certainly issue possible or compatible with the canon. Not that this desire for "originality" makes novelization uninteresting -- I'm far more interested in the novelization approach with respect to DA.
Edited 2014-01-24 23:39 (UTC)
vieralynn: (Default)

[personal profile] vieralynn 2014-01-25 02:13 (UTC)(link)
Good question, especially as I eye that bit of meta I have on novelization fanfic versus 'other' genres of fanfic (for a big bucket of many different kinds of 'other').

There is also the question of whether or not the word "novelization" is the best word to use although novelizations of 120 minute movies need to take 20,000 words of script and turn it into 80,000 - 120,000 words of prose so a lot of missing scenes are added. Also, for popular series the the official Star Trek novels, the novels expand on a singular canon rather than just retell scenes that have been shot using the various star trek actors + scripts. So, even traditionally, the word "novelization" means more than just straight up retelling.

I'm not entirely settled on a definition but the notion of singularity in canon seems central, although that becomes fuzzy in a game like DA:O or DA2.

So, the way I think I want to use the term "novelization" with respect to video game fanfic is "any story that follows some or all of the video game's plot and expands the original canon without directly contradicting it." So, a both a doorstopper novel titled How Warden Brosca Stopped The Fifth Blight and a small collection of short stories that provide missing scenes for Warden Brosca's life during the year 9:30 would probably count as "novelization" by my definition, as long as the stories are missing scenes that are canon compatible, backstory that explains and extends canon, and post-canon stories that take the logical next step. Basically, anything that slots right into the game play experience in a non-contradictory manner, but is focused ON the characters who greatly contributed to the plot of the game. For Dragon Age, if one can generally imagine the fanfic becoming a series of "official" Dragon Age stories for one canonical play through, then it falls into what I think I am going to call "video game novelization fanfic."

The idea here is that the fanfic expands on the life of one or more canonical character within the bounds of canon. So, FFXII's story (in 706 O.V.) from Basch's POV (with many missing scenes) plus Basch's post-game experience as Judge Gabranth would also be novelization by my definition. But FFXII's plot as a backdrop during a story told from Vaan's POV about his year long torrid, highly public romance with Ashe would not be novelization by my definition. That's invention despite using the FFXII plotline to mark time and events. Likewise, I want to classify novellas/novels like my "What He Wants" as definitely *NOT* novelization because even though plot points are referred to, the story adds incompatible (or original) "what ifs" (fem!Hawke gets pregnant & gives birth in in 9:32) and either pushes characterization beyond what is likely to be "true" in canon or creates characterization that is all but certainly not true (Cullen is extremely needy and extremely insecure, and spends 9:33-9:36 struggling with drug (lyrium) addiction). Obviously, a story about how Tabris never becomes a warden but, instead, is sold into slavery to Danarius would NOT be novelization because it has nothing to do with DA:O's or DA2's plot.

There is a large co-authored project I've been slowly working on for a year...-__- for a while, and should go live next month. Co-author+I are calling it a novelization although YMMV because it stretches the definition of novelization. The co-authored portion of the story slavishly follows DA2's plot quest by quest (sounds like novelization!) while providing the behind-the-scenes political/social/economic story as told through the POV's of a small collection of characters who are NOT Hawke (alt POV novelization?) in which the entire thing is really canon meta (hmmm) as various characters who aren't Hawke discuss the situations surrounding each of the quests (so, novelization as a device for writing metafiction).

On the other hand, this co-authored project happens to take place in my Mari Hawke's universe and anything I write separately about her experiences from her POV within the bounds of DA2's plot is definitely straight-forward "video game novelization" by my definition above... that is, until the complication of her extra-canonical LI is brought in, despite all of THAT being very purposefully written to slip into the framework of canon without changing it, much as if Cullen was a DLC character sort of like Sebastian's DLC, where this unofficial DLC (so to speak) provides additional insight into Kirkwall+Thedas's politics & economics while remaining grounded in the canon itself.

.

The reason I've been thinking about this is a little academic and has more to do with what people seem to be getting out of the act of reading and/or writing video game fanfic.

Sometimes people are very interested in telling their protagonists' story. They have THEIR Brosca or Tabris or Cousland and the video game *purposefully* leaves many elements to our imagination in order to create a more immersive experience, thus my Aeducan will never be the same as your Aeducan even if they make the same in-game choices via the dialogue menu. Thus, the power of this highly immersive experience calls for fanfic -- novelizational fanfic (as I am calling it right now).

Sometimes people are interested in extending canon with stories that could be read as official novels if the official Canon God blessed it as so, but, even if not, as long as it remains canon compatible, it feels like a novelization. Fleshing out Wynne's backstory while remaining canon compatible, for instance.

On the other hand, sometimes people are instead interested in taking the universe and running wild with what ifs or complete alternate constructions. For instance, Fenris never comes to Kirkwall but some of the cast ends up in Tevinter. Or "what if" romance stories: mage Hawke is forced into an arranged marriage to keep her (rarely him) out of the Circle.

Also, in the not-novelization bucket, sometimes people are just borrowing the characters to write erotica or porn, and what they write has little to do with canon events or even canon characterization. Nods to canon are merely excuses for an extended sex scene.

Going further, sometimes people are interested in writing AU or crossovers: modern day coffee shop fic, etc.

My reason for classification is that the novelization-style fanfic is written within the constraints of needing to work with canon while explaining or expanding on that canon. In an sense, the canon itself becomes the writing prompts. Readers judge it by how IC the characters feel, whether or not they find the protagonist's POV interesting, and/or whether the story illuminates or expands something in canon that they find valuable.

The non-novelization styles of fanfic are judged by different criteria that appear far more dependent on the genre of the fanfic. So, PWP/erotica is judged by a different set of criteria than coffee shop AU, etc.
Edited (erg. typos. -- that's the last time I type something long on my ipad. Oh iSpell.) 2014-01-25 02:19 (UTC)
vieralynn: (Default)

[personal profile] vieralynn 2014-01-25 08:15 (UTC)(link)
Agreed that it is far easier to write a fuzzy Hawke, especially since there is a default Marian and a default Garret. There are certain segments of fandom (or certain genres of fanfic) where almost all of the fic is default rogue!Marian Hawke. I see it all the time.
vieralynn: (Default)

[personal profile] vieralynn 2014-01-26 07:13 (UTC)(link)
Yes, I've seen a lot too. Default mage Garrett was the Hawke used in the official promo materials. I wonder if that's why? Odd that default Marian tends to be written as a rogue.

I've written quite a few Hawkes but only one of them -- Mari -- is based on actual game play. The rest are all generics whom I haven't played.
vieralynn: (Default)

[personal profile] vieralynn 2014-01-27 01:07 (UTC)(link)
In all the stories I'm thinking of with generic (usually rogue) Marian Hawke or generic (often mage, sometimes warrior-templar) Garrett Hawke, the stories were usually written in response to very specific prompts that involve a Hawke/Someone ship and a plot device that creates reason for the ship or drama+intrigue around it. Game events weren't very important in these stories although certain events might be mentioned as part of the set up or backdrop.

I have a really hard time imagining a generic warden unless the story is very short -- 500 words or less.
lassarina: (Ashe)

[personal profile] lassarina 2014-01-25 20:26 (UTC)(link)
It's like how people create tags on AO3 for their Hawke/Warden/etc. I'm like that too, though the Hawke I played first isn't quite the one I think I want to fic about (but that's OK: there are authors out there who write a lot of what I need to have my happy fandom times.)

It's also, I think, why I have a hard time writing in DA/ME fandoms. My Hawke is not your Hawke even if they're the same gender, class, theme. But I'm...very restrictive in what I consider acceptable characterization, in that I stick very hard to what canon gives me, and so if there's no canon how do I characterize this person?? And then I psych myself out and can never write.
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)

[personal profile] lassarina 2014-01-26 16:52 (UTC)(link)
It doesn't work for my particular neuroses, because I can't point to Definitive Script Points to demonstrate why I made a particular choice (and while for the most part I don't get people demanding that, I did get it once or twice wayyyyyy early in my fannish career and it sort of left an impression, you could say.)

The Hawke I will write will be very close to my first Hawke (diplomatic, mage) but with a couple of shifts (healer instead of BLOW ALL THE SHIT UP, romancing Fenris instead of fucking up all possible romances.)
vieralynn: (Default)

That problem of canon.

[personal profile] vieralynn 2014-01-27 04:06 (UTC)(link)
Randomly cutting in here. Regarding your point about DA & ME not having clear cut canon, I have many reasons to suspect that this effects the kinds of fanfic written there, and not always for the better (despite a lot of good writing in those fandoms). On the good side, even though this may or may not work with your style of fanfic, DA:Origins' warden is such a blank slate that fanfic writers can take DA:Os plot as structure, pick one of the origin stories, and then create just about any character they wish as the warden. I've enjoyed a wide range of DA:O fanfic because each individual warden becomes really fascinating. The only "bad" thing is that it can be hard to find variation. Most of the mage wardens are shy and bookish, for instance.

On the other hand, DA2's Hawke is far from a blank slate but not quite as narrow as ME's Shepard, and DA2's canonical story is a complete deconstruction of the heroic fantasy so, at least to me as someone who is REALLY INTERESTED in how canon is interpreted, I've read a lot of Hawke stories where the writer isn't making commitments to *why* that Hawke makes certain choices. I think some of this has to do with all of the fandom bullshit surrounding so-called "correct" ways vs "wrong" ways to play Hawke (because god forbid Hawke ever does anything supportive for the templars and/or does something nice to a templar). While I have read many really good short character studies, very few DA2 writers commit to writing long fic that explores the canon in a manner that I find satisfying (which makes me pine for my days in Final Fantasy XII fandom where this was more common). So much of the long DA2 fic I find is kink fic, totally tangential "what if" fic (which can be really good but it doesn't have anything to do with canon), or AU.

Sadly, I also have a hard time finding solid in-character, canon-believable, canon-grounded portrayals of DA2's cast members in long fic. It sometimes feels like DA2's canon scares people off so they just run wild writing interesting stories that have little to do with canon, unless they are sticking with short characters studies. YMMV.
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)

Re: That problem of canon.

[personal profile] lassarina 2014-01-30 02:25 (UTC)(link)
All good points. I feel like of the group, I'd have the easiest time writing fem!Shep (our paragon princess version) or my planned mage Hawke playthrough, but I think the problem I have with the Warden is that FF fandom burned me hard on OCs (let me tell you about how fucking neurotic I am when eventually Every Light is fully posted and people will inevitably hate me for all the choices I made in it) and the Warden has too little canon for me to work with, thus inevitably is an OC.

The other problem is that I-the-player cannot abide making choices that aren't, well, paragon princess; I must not hurt the pixel people's feelings. In a lot of ways I find that limiting and I assume no one else is interested in my need to help digital people.

tl;dr DA and ME fandom have a field day with my assorted writing neuroses, whee!
stealth_noodle: Text: Coffee time, with picture of delicious, nutritious coffee (coffee)

[personal profile] stealth_noodle 2014-01-26 14:23 (UTC)(link)
I actually replayed the entire ME trilogy with the Shepard I wanted to write fic about, because I really wanted to see her choices playing out. (Then the only ME fic I've gotten around to finishing and posting so far only has Shep as a background character, gender and details deliberately unspecified. :P)

I find it interesting how I often I come across ME fics where Shepard strikes me as OOC. There's so much freedom when characterizing a customizable protagonist, but in the case of ME, at least (with a selection of defined major life events and voice-acted lines), it's not quite a case of there being a total blank slate to work with. I really like "a broad space of possible canons" as a description for this sort of thing.

Whereas with, say, Elder Scrolls fic, where the protagonist has no defined lines or backstory or anything at all, and the game is so open-ended that you really don't have a specified set of options for major decisions that must be made to advance, I don't think it would be possible for me to find fic about the protagonist OOC. There's "flexible" and then there's "here's a lump of clay, have fun!"

Also, I really love how people tend to write about their Shepard, to the point that I have little interest in fic where the writer is trying to portray some kind of "default" Shep. (Every time I hear about the potential for a Mass Effect movie with default BroShep, I cringe a little. Just... not what I'm here for, in this fandom.) Watching people get creative within that broad space of possible canons is a lot of fun for me.