Recently I finished watching the show “Mayoiga The Lost Village” (迷家-マヨイガ). A sort of mix between Persona 4 and Lost. I’d say it was ok if not that great. What stood out to me interestingly enough was it’s approach to character building.
In writing it’s best to have fleshed out characters which have a strong background and personality. That said Mayoiga shed light on a trend that I’ve seen in many stories. Characters which are defined by one major event, scar, or circumstance which defines them and who they are. In real life, however, people don’t really work like that. There are too many variables and experiences to pin everything on one major event. Sure, sometimes there’s something that happens which leaves a lasting impression, but I’d hesitate to say that this almost ever is the sole defining factor of someone’s personality.
When it comes to character writing I’ve seen this trend though. While I love the Persona series, it and many others rely on this one conflict approach to character backgrounds. As both a writer and RPG player I know that when you want to make a deeper character but also not invest a great deal of time into designing them, this is often the best way to go. That said, it happens way too much. Think about the last TV show, movie, or the like you saw. How many of the characters backgrounds were defined by one major event? I’m going to wager most of them.
I think that part of this is due to how hard it is to develop a character’s life in depth without actually creating the stories themselves. Often as the games or movies develop the characters do to (if the writing is good at least). This development is hard to do in the vacuum of pre story background. Because of this characters can be limited to these simple one to two dimensional backgrounds which then must grow into real 3d characters.
To achieve a real fleshed out character sometimes you have to write a separate background story just for them. The more multifaceted the better to avoid the trap of the “fake” 3d characters you have to do a lot more work than the average writer, but when you see it, like with JRR Tolkien and other backstory masters it shows.