Terrouge E-zine Archives
Passion, Foible, Virtue
This is my third season on cast at the local medieval faire, and since we're in the middle of our rehearsal season, character building has loomed large and important in my mind. It's essentially improvisational theatre on a large scale, and knowing a character inside and out is important if you don't want to fall apart when interacting with patrons on the streets. Because of this, the faire cast is put through three months of intensive rehearsal, learning improvisation and character-building techniques.
I've found some of the methods useful enough to use in creating roleplaying characters outside of faire, as well as characters for fiction and fanfiction. It's my hope that you, dear reader, can find some use from this as well. So for the next couple months, I'll be writing on various character-building techniques I've learned from medieval faire and elsewhere.
This month, I'm covering passion, foible, and virtue. These are three essential components that drive the character's actions and can even drive an entire story. From what I understand, the entertainment directors at the faire pulled these from Gary Izzo's book entitled The Art of Play.
Passion: The character's driving motivation. What does your character want more than anything else in the world? What makes him do what he does? It should be something he cannot attain without extraordinary difficulty. Once the passion is accomplished, the character is without a solid drive or motivation, and thus the story is (usually) ended. The passion should be something big, a bold choice; smaller passions are for smaller people (like the bit characters your main characters meet as the story unfolds).
- My character Riala Goldentail's passion in Vengeance Quest was to kill the wolverine Nightdeath Longclaws to avenge her father. Simple, clear-cut, narrowly focused. When her passion was fulfilled, she was lost and without a purpose.
- Matthias' passion in Redwall was to be a hero; it grew into saving/defending Redwall. The book ended when he did so, and by the time of events in Mattimeo, his passion had shifted (while still remaining basically the same: defend Redwall and its inhabitants; save them if they're threatened). At that point it was a more or less passive passion that he only had to strive for if it was activated (such as with the capture of Mattimeo and the other Redwallers), and he had no real room to grow anymore because of the prior attainment of his passion.
- Cluny the Scourge's passion in Redwall was to conquer; in this case, to conquer Redwall Abbey specifically. It became akin to an obsession (as passions can easily do) by the end of the book, and he refused to let anything deter him from his goal.
- Other possible passions: Map all of Mossflower; discover a cure for a disease that has never been cured before; find true love; get rich beyond measure.
Foible: What prevents your character from attaining her passion? This can be a personality flaw, an environmental problem, or some other issue. This is the challenge (or sometimes challenges) that the character must overcome in order to achieve her passion. It should be something pretty big; this is, after all, what forms the core of the conflict in the story, and without conflict, you don't have a story. It should be proportional to the character's passion; a big passion should have a big foible, and a small passion should have a smaller foible. The foible should not directly contradict the passion; you shouldn't have someone whose passion is to swim across the ocean but whose foible is that they hate swimming, unless they have a very good reason to still hold that passion. Why would you want with all your being to do something you hate?
- Riala Goldentail's foible was a somewhat nebulous thing in comparison to her clear-cut passion. The problem with killing Nightdeath Longclaws is that he has a large, well-trained horde, and he's an expert fighter of many seasons. Riala is but one squirrel, a loner, and does not play well with others; her actions often drive off or repulse those who might be able to help her. So in order to fulfill her passion, she has to overcome this flaw and work with others so that she can get to (and through) the horde to get to the Longclaws.
- Matthias' foible is that he's a clumsy orphan Redwaller in a time of peace. How to be a hero when there's no villain to fight? This foible is, in part, overcome with the arrival of Cluny, but it still remains that he's clumsy and young and inexperienced. In finding Martin's sword, he overcomes that a bit with trials and determination. But it doesn't take much; this is an example of a simple foible.
- Cluny's foible is that Redwall Abbey has excellent defenses: big thick walls, the spirit of Martin the Warrior, and determined defenders. One might also argue that his foible is his temper; the angrier he gets, the less he thinks things through, in a lot of cases. Again, it's a relatively simple foible.
- Other possible foibles: The mapmaker has a severe problem with absentmindedness and no direction sense; the healer contracts the disease and it impairs her concentration and ability to think clearly; the would-be lover looks for love in all the wrong places and doesn't notice the one who he could have true love with; the would-be richbeast has a gambling addiction and tends to lose money as fast as he makes it.
Virtue: The virtue is the character's redeeming quality. It's related to the foible; it's a possible way the character can overcome the foible (or win the reader's heart despite the foible). It's the character's strength. Even the most despicable villains should have a virtue (i.e.: Nightdeath Longclaws' virtue is that, ruthlessness aside, he is a good leader and charismatic, and thus commands the loyalty of his horde).
- Riala's virtue is her determination. Nothing will keep her from the Longclaws for long; she'd chew her own foot off in order to be free to pursue him if it was necessary. She is driven, and she will not be broken. She will do whatever she must to achieve her goal. (This sometimes means this bleeds into foible; it adds a nasty edge of ruthlessness at times that turns otherbeasts off of helping her out.)
- Matthias' virtue is his big heart and his courage. He honestly deeply cares about otherbeasts, and he will protect them at whatever cost. He feels everything passionately; he is a protector and a caretaker.
- Cluny's virtue is his ruthless stubbornness. He will fight through pain and madness; he will whip his horde on to fresh attacks despite heavy losses and humiliation; he will stop at nothing to conquer Redwall.
- Other possible virtues: The mapmaker is an incredible artist and very likable; the healer is caring and very intelligent; the would-be lover is good-hearted and lovable; the would-be richbeast has a sharp business mind (but his addiction is too strong to resist with logic).
There you have it: passion, virtue, and foible. See if you can find the passion, virtue, and foible of your favorite character, either in someone else's writings or your own. Enjoy!
Coming Next: Physicality in Characters and Description