Stephen R. Donaldson-itis


Gaming Stories
Stephen R. Donaldson-itis
Glory Days and D&D
Making Characters

Stephen R. Donaldson is known for his series of books about Thomas Covenant. In this book series, the main character is set up to be a great hero, but decides to not rise to the occasion. Covenant constantly retreats from the opportunity to do the right thing, and reacts like a dysfunctional beaten dog.

As frustrating as Covenant's actions are, they are nothing without the support of his enabling hosts. Covenant spends the majority of his time surrounded by sycophantic followers and supposed great heroes who cede their power to him. In short, they put him into positions where he can ruin their good work, then believe they have done something to deserve this bad treatment from the chosen one, or whatever title they give him. The most condensed clearest distillation of this behavior is the abusive husband and enabling wife. Donaldson never has the wife snap and shoot the bastard, or stab him with a chef's knife.

So, what I find frustrating in entertainment today is that the people who produce what is supposed to be funny, or suspenseful, or high drama, make the mistake of having their characters repeat the same behavior multiple times without learning anything in the process. The characters are reduced to non thinking automatons. Eventually something happens that solves the conflict, but there is often no real path to the solution.

We can expect people to learn something from every experience. When they learn less, we can accept that they're a little slow once or twice. Beyond that, the character loses credibility. When a character learns more than we expect, we can accept that they got lucky, or had some great insight. Repeated great insights make us suspect that the author is incapable of getting the character in the right place with good writing.

A much more reasonable model for any kind of entertainment is to have characters get into situations involving some kind of challenge or discomfort, learn from their actions, and approach new situations armed with that knowledge. Whether the knowledge is valid or faulty charts the character's course.

Finally, the traits of the character affect what they do with the knowledge, but the traits themselves are affected by the knowledge. With repeated exposure to bold action and results, the timid librarian can become a courageous warrior.

This article just scratches the surface of storytelling. I cannot possibly cover all the processes of character and plot development, plausible situation creation, conflict resolution etc. I'm not that good. I CAN however recognize Stephen R. Donaldson-itis, and expect more from the entertainment industry.