Numenera: Role Playing in the Ninth World
 

Numenera: Role-Playing in the 9th World

Tabletop RPG Review

 
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
 

Descendant of the Crane

Review

 
Todd Lockwood Interview – The Summer Dragon
 

Todd Lockwood

Interview – The Summer Dragon

 

Happy You Day – Individual Centered Celebrations

Throughout our lives and cultures we come across all sorts of celebrations and event focused on the individual; birthdays, coming-of-age ceremonies, funerals, all about that certain person. How that person reacts to said events can be a good indicator of character, and allows you to inform your reader of their personality and beliefs without having to rely on the dreaded info-dump.

They can also inform the reader of the world your characters inhabit without having to sit down and map out every detail. They’re a good way of contrasting between countries and religions, and a useful tool for ramping up tension, be in it in a small or large way.

birthday cake by zakonslikeTake birthdays for example; I absolutely love birthdays, they’re a great excuse to get the people you care about together for a party, or go to that special place you don’t tend to go unless it’s a treat. It’s a day all about you, where you get to be in charge, just for that one day a year. It’s also a celebration of the fact you’re alive and in people’s lives, and that’s a beautiful thing.

I have friends who don’t like birthdays though, for one reason or another; a close friend follows a religion that doesn’t celebrate birthdays, and another just doesn’t like the idea of celebrating another year on the planet. It does make it tricky organising celebrations when I want both of them there, but each to their own; diversity is what makes humans exciting.

Coming of age ceremonies are something that seems to vary from culture to culture, and again paint in detail about a character’s background, or the country their visiting. For a lot of us it’s an 18th or 21st birthday, a religious ceremony like Holy Communion, or hitting the age when an inheritance kicks in. The reaction to these again is key; what does it tell us about the person?

Funerals are of course the very last individual based event any of us will go through, even though we ourselves are not aware of it. It is a time of grieving, emotions running high, but it is also about celebrating the life that has gone, be it for better or worse.

So, how are these used to describe character? Take birthdays; if you have a character that insists on celebrating her birthday every year, no matter where she is or in what circumstances, how is that going to affect your plot? If her travelling companion can’t stand the idea, will that cause tension between them? What if they have to travel home for birthdays, as it’s a family tradition? What if it’s against one of the parties’ religion to celebrate birthdays?

Feast by Kazuya Takahashi

They can be a good reminder in the character’s mind for some past event that continues to dog them, a convenient enough date for them to remember, despite wanting to forget. If character Y’s parents were murdered on her birthday, she isn’t going to appreciate character Z constantly at her to celebrate. They can be a handy way of giving the reader some context of time in your story too; if a character has more than one birthday in the plot, we know at least a year has passed since the story began.

The Lady of Shalott by John Atkinson GrimshawAnd what of funerals? If a member of the travelling party is killed in action, will the others know the correct funeral rites for whatever religion or culture the deceased belonged to? Will they have the time and means to hold a proper sending off for them? Will your characters celebrate the death of one, but mourn the passing of another?

Funeral rites can be a very serious deal; people get all dressed up in their Sunday best to go to a church or crematorium, sit, sing, cry and talk about the person they’ve just lost. Some people, especially those who know their time is coming to an end, often want a party thrown afterwards, so that the whole day isn’t grief-stricken. Would this work in the context of your story?

Emotions tend to be running high at these times too, and that can be a very useful little tool for ramping up tension between your characters. We’ve all heard of the family feuds becoming graveside brawls, and yet it can be an interesting plot turn; one person is blamed for the death, they try and defend their actions. The party still has to complete their quest. Will they now be able to, given that they no longer trust each other?

Rest in Peace by DarthFarAs readers, you will have come across little details and quirks about characters that tell you more about them, and you’ll know the sort of thing you do and don’t like. You will know that these little things build a character who is multi-dimensional, and who we want to stay with throughout the story, rooting for them to succeed, and who leaves us feeling a little empty when their story is over. As writers, we need to embrace that, take all the little details we know about people and what makes them the way we are, and use these to craft enjoyable characters.

Individual focused celebrations such as birthdays or funerals, as well as others cultural or religious celebrations, may not be a huge part of your story world, but think of them as window-dressing, or even better, those little Lego blocks that help you connect tricky bits of your creation. They add another level to the character and world without requiring too much effort, and are a tidy way of getting across those extra details.

Share

Leave a Comment