Terrouge E-zine Archives
Character Crunch: Teren Bocere
By: Saarh Jevsa
Good day, children! Today, we have gathered to
torture, mock, and otherwise make fun of critique our first character, Teren Bocere. Allow me to remind you once more that the point of this is to offer constructive feedback, and my intent is not to merely send you off with a pat on the back. However, I will never be intentionally harsh or cruel.
But on to the crunching! Let’s start by having a look at his description.
Physical description: Nothing about Teren’s general appearance causes comment. He is an otter, physically fit though not as burly as many of them, with light brown eyes that look almost gold at times. His is expression is usually open and disarming, having a peculiar quality that makes him look younger than he actually is. He usually wears simple clothes; a sleeved tunic and a loose shirt underneath, leggings, boots. He has a shy smile that he uses frequently, and a rather soft voice.
Personality: Teren was a rather quiet kit who grew up in the middle of a very large and very boisterous otter holt. He was just as athletic as his brothers, but didn’t have the same passion for activity. As such he would often wander away from the noise and find a quiet spot to dream by himself. This gave him an increasingly contemplative mood, a passion for observation rather than activity. He is more mild–mannered and quiet than most otters. He prefers to remain on the edges of things, watching and listening, rather than take part. His conversational skills are rather terrible. Teren also has an unusual ability to give something his entire concentration — when he is concentrating, almost nothing can disturb him.
The first line in Teren’s description states that “Nothing about Teren provokes comment.” However, reading further, we find this to be not the case. His eyes are brownish gold? Odd. My cat’s eyes are that color, actually, and everyone who sees her is always surprised by them. Now, for otters, brown eyes are more common, but the fact that they look gold tends to indicate that there would in fact be comments. Then, there’s his expression; we find that he has an “Open, disarming” face that makes him seem younger. To me, this seems to say “Honest and charming,” which seems rather flirty. But then you go on and say that he’s quite shy and terrible at conversation. If his face is so open, seems like it should show his shyness, not his false charm! The two, charming and shy, just don’t fit together very well.
The personality description is rather redundant, telling us several times that he is quieter than his fellow otters and prefers solitude to company. He appears to be rather bipolar, though, and that’s an interesting feature. I like how his shyness is portrayed as more of a flaw than merely one of his features; many amateur role players describe their characters as “Shy when meeting new people, but comfortable and outgoing with their friends,” which is kind of to say that they really aren’t shy at all, just a little lacking in confidence when they meet new people. The shy people that I know are only loud and outgoing when they’re with people that they see on a regular basis — and even then, it takes them some time to warm up. It’s refreshing to see a character who is honestly shy, rather than just when his or her author feels the whim.
His personality, however, is where we begin to run into Teren’s biggest problem; the otter, at the insistence of his author, is so unexceptional as to be a little boring. He is the stereotypical middle child, and while I have a soft spot for middle children, Teren seems to lack the quirkiness of many middle children who don’t have a good outlet, and just become really weird (did I mention I’m a middle child?) Or maybe we’re just not being informed of it; he is, after all, an artist, and I’ve never met a fully sane artist. Still, quirky traits would have been obvious things to mention in the personality description, so I’m a little skeptical of that theory.
Another point in the same vein; he apparently “draws no attention to himself”. If that’s the case, why are we reading about him? Main characters are main characters because there’s something about them that separates them from the common herd. You seem to be continually emphasizing that Teren is really no different from any other character walking down the street. So why aren’t we reading about someone who IS different? You’ve probably heard the whole spiel a million times where someone rants, “Why can’t people just write normal characters with realistic flaws? Characters who don’t have white irises and purple fur from birth?!” Teren, however, is in no danger of running into such issues, and I think he’d be better off if you felt free to experiment with him and give him some quirks. (Also, quirks do not have to automatically equal madness! Otherwise, all my friends’d be locked up…)
Let’s move on to the history.
Personal history: Teren was somewhere in the middle of his ten brothers and sisters (even their mother had trouble keeping track of who was who.) He was exceptional at nothing and never drew attention to himself, and so usually he was simply swept along in a sea of noise and activity. This was fine with little Ter, who was happily bounced around all through his kit years. When he was grown enough to tire of the atmosphere of his home he announced to his family his intentions of going wandering. He was met, from his siblings and father, with enthusiastic agreement. His mother cried buckets, then kissed him on the cheek and wished him well.
During his kit days, Teren had picked up another skill not usually attributed to otters. He drew and painted. An old hedgehog passing through had given him a packet of paper and paints and from that day on Teren had given every ounce of concentration to learning how to draw. He became, in time, very very good. After his drawing skills were refined, the love of art stemmed into a love of writing. He read every historical account he could get his hands on. The history of things and places fascinated him.
And so when he set out adventuring, his paper and paints were by his side, and he went as an artist historian. He drew plants and people and places, labeled them all very correctly, and stored them in the various places he stopped at. Some things he sent home, along with letters to his mother. Teren was a very good son and always wrote to his mother when important things happened.
In time he passed through Redwall, Salamandastron, and many other important places. Once he was injured in a brawl and bears a limp. At last his travels brought him to Black Arch Fort. And here, for now, he remains, drawing and recording.
For the most part, this fits very well with his personality and demonstrates how he became the otter he is today. However, for a character who prefers not to exert effort, going wandering is kind of a bit deal, especially when doing so often leads to adventures. Still, you get points for having his parents and family alive and kicking when he leaves home.
We run into another apparent contradiction (or unexplained trait) though: he writes home faithfully, but earlier, we were told that he was terrible at conversation. Either A., his mother gets some of the oddest letters ever written, which would have been an amusing thing to point out, or B., his conversational problems are not such an issue when he’s writing, which would make sense, as art and writing seem to be his outlets. Either way, (but especially if it’s the latter,) I think it probably should have been mentioned.
Oh, but here’s an interesting tidbit! He was injured in a brawl? Fascinating — particularly, if, as you imply, he was actually involved in it, and wasn’t just a bystander who happened to be hit with a flying mug/weapon/what have you. I’m curious to know what, aside from his art, would be important enough to fight over, since he seems so level headed.
Overall comments on the profile, and especially the history: I really get the sense that you should have gone a little more in depth, if you’re trying to give people a good idea of your character. It works perfectly for a role–playing game, but some of the detail were a little sketchy for your purposes here (I would adore to have more details on the brawl, for instance, even if he wasn’t involved. Why did he stay around long enough to get hurt, if he wasn’t?)
Let’s move on to the writing sample.
It was cold outside. Bitterly cold. Bitter cold, combined with wet snow underpaw and more wet snow falling so thick from the grey sky that anything standing still was covered within seconds.
A nitpick: the first paragraph is very redundant, which kind of gets us bogged down. First, using the adjective “Bitter” twice so close together just makes things more repetitive without actually emphasizing the cold, which I think was your intention.
Teren trudged through it all, if not happy then at least oblivious to the discomfort. He’d been on duty for what seemed like weeks. In the North Tower. With Commander Sceo.
He was beginning to think the twitch on his left eye was permanent.
But here was just what he needed! A beautiful free day of reprieve. The otter had woken early, packed his art supplies, put on multiple layers of warm clothing, and then happily trekked several miles across snowy territory, where he then sat precariously balanced on a stone outcropping drawing a winter scene. It was slow going, especially since he had to stop every few seconds to unfreeze his paws in the small fire he’d built.
He had bravely attempted painting for a while, but had to go back to charcoal when the water kept freezing into a solid block. Alas, the hardships of a very determined nature artist.
When he’d judged he’d done enough for one day (or perhaps that he’d suffered enough for his art), he happily repacked his things and began trudging through the snowing, silent, forest back towards Black Arch Fort.
He came out near the coast, quite near Compass Point. It was his conscious intention to do so, but once he saw the inn a smile (quite small, since his muzzle was rather stiff with ice) crossed his face and he began angling towards it. A nice mug of ale was what he needed right now.
The warmth inside hit him like a wave as he entered the inn. Teren breath in a happy sigh and shook the casing of ice and snow off of him. A perfect time to try to get some feeling back in his limbs.
He was sliding his pack off his back when a familiar voice struck his ears. His expression freezing even more than was warranted by actual ice, he turned. There he spotted a familiar pair of ears and a bushy tail.
No. No. Not Sceo, here. Surely he could get SOME peace!
His eyes slanted furtively to the side. Maybe she wouldn’t see him. He’d sit in the corner, yes, and they wouldn’t bother one another. Yes. That would work.
First, the whole story tells more than it shows, and it really doesn’t tell much, at that. We get hints of things — apparently, this Sceo can get under his skin, which piques our interest, but it’s left at that — nothing is said to further explain this. There is a good deal of description about the weather, but not much about Teren himself. The sample is quite short, but it covers a whole day — I think the words would have been better spent if you focused on a shorter time period, even fifteen minutes, and showed us more inside Teren’s head instead of drifting somewhere above his ears.
The piece was nice in that it was a very “A day in the life” story — showing us how Teren usually goes about his business, and all — but his life, or what we’re shown of it, seems to be as unexceptional as he is, and that’s not making us any more interested. Teren is completely “normal”, at least outwardly; the problem is that we never see what he’s like inside.
The part at the tavern was very underwritten. It felt more like a summary than anything; we get no sense of discomfort from Teren about being around other beasts, or anything else to indicate his shyness; nor do we get any dialogue, which would have perfectly showed his lack of conversational skills. It ends without any real conclusion, leaving us to stare in surprise and think, “That’s all?”
I can’t help but wonder what the sample would have been like if it had been about an encounter between him and Sceo, instead. They have some sort of rivalry going, so that in itself would have made things interesting, and it also would have given us a chance to see how Teren interacts with people he doesn’t like (I get the feeling that she must be extremely irritating, because he doesn’t seem the sort to be easily bothered.) I think it would have forced you to get inside his head, as well, which would have given us insight into how he thinks.
Overall advice: Make him worth reading about. Show us what makes him different from everyone else.
As I am loath to end on a “negative” note, I’d really like to take a moment to tell you what you’re doing right. I know the point of this is to show you what you can fix, to make you better, but I know I personally find it discouraging to be reminded only of my errors without ever getting any positive feedback.
So! As I mentioned, you get lots of points for having his family alive, and I love that he still interacts with them, if only by letter; so many inexperienced writers are intent on getting their character’s family out of the picture, never realizing that having the family alive can actually make things more interesting. Your writing style is very enjoyable to read, and I think it can only get better when you write more from inside of your character’s head. Great job, and good luck!
Of course, this column can’t continue without a supply of characters to crunch. To have your character featured in a future issue, please fill out the following form:
Species (does not apply to human characters)
If possible, please include a writing sample with this character; I ask that the sample be 1000 words or shorter. It should either be in the form of a short story or an excerpt from a story or RP that showcases your character. I will accept both human and furry characters.
To send me your character, either PM Saarh Jevsa on Terrouge forums, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Farewell until next time!