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Role Play 101: The Power Of Denial

By: Qai

These were originally written while role playing in WoW, but all of the general concepts and advice still very much apply. Even if you've been role playing for years, there are some things in here will likely help you develop even further.

While I take no credit for writing this guide, I cannot actually name the person who wrote it. It is a handbook that has been passed around for a little over 9 years now, the authors have changed (or at least user names) many times over. Though I thought it would be good to share for those who do actively or are interested in role playing.

Role Play 101: The Power of Denial

We’ve seen the story before; character desires something, character quests after it, character achieves it, character lives happily ever after. At least in a story that is wrapped up in a neat little package, that is how it generally goes. Even in serials there are jumps from victory to victory and everything works out wonderfully Pollyana-ish in the end.

However what I want to discuss is the power of denial.

Now I’m not talking about denial of the sort “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything!”. What I am talking about is denying your character that thing that they so badly want. Look it as another story telling tool.

I realize you’re probably thinking “What fun is it to keep the prize away from my character? I want them to get the girl/house/booty/loot and live happily ever after!” And if that is what you truly want then go for it! But think about telling a compelling story instead of just giving them the goodies. Denying the character the prize is powerful story telling. It keeps the audience coming back for more. Would we have watched The Fugitive for four years if Dr. Richard Kimble had caught the one-armed man and proven his innocence halfway through the first? Consider the power in that story. Consider why people came back week after week to watch it.

So now let’s apply the idea to our characters in WoW. I will use Ithrene as my example.

Ithrene is a sweet, young female dwarf, kind of tomboyish and not quite as sure of herself as she seems to be. She exudes youth and innocence and a sweetness that is just adorable. She is an adult, but just barely and still naive in many things. She has a little bit of a stubborn streak but often gives in to the wishes of others easily. Ithrene has her farting bear that annoys the fire out of her sometimes but she loves him with all of her heart and could never dream of life without him. He isn’t just her pet; he is her companion and sometimes only friend. She probably confesses more of her heart to him than she would ever dream of telling anyone else. He isn’t just a partner; he is her shield, her strength, her furry white wall.

Ithrene has a Un’Goro sized crush on Fjuinen (who is also adorable and sweet, by the way). She tends to stammer and blush and not speak well when she is near him. It’s all terribly cute and fun! Her innocence and nervousness tells a sweet story that is fun to watch and engaging to brush the edges of because sometimes even the most battle-hardened, jaded warrior sees her and for a moment remembers the beauty and innocence of youth.

But what would happen to her story if she managed to gain the “dwarf of her dreams”? Suddenly the innocence is gone. She fully grows up, her whole personality changes. The behaviors that were sweet and appealing suddenly seem false. No longer are we captivated by her sunny, sweet smile; her innocent blushes. Why? The innocence is gone. We watched her get what she was after. Now that she has it, she isn’t interesting any longer.

But as long as she continues to reach for it, but never quite gets it, there is something interesting to watch.

Eventually the character is likely to either get what they want or have it taken away forever. One can only stretch out the denial for so long. However if skillfully done, you can keep your audience focused on the character for a very long time. Don’t assume they just want to hear about your character achieving the goal. They want to follow the journey to it as well and who wants a fun journey to be a short one?

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