Storium Theory: Getting Personal: Cheerful

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on April 7th, 2016.

For today’s article, I’m starting a new series called “Getting Personal.” In this series, I’ll spend a little time with a study on character personality types. I’m going to take a bit of time here to discuss some positive and negative impacts each personality might have on a game, and ways I think you can write a personality to accentuate the positives and mitigate the negatives.

We’re starting out with a cheerful personality. This is a character that tends to look on the bright side. People might call him perky, cheery, or optimistic. He tends to have a lot of energy and is very active. He may speak quickly, and he probably laughs readily. He likes the other characters and wants them to like him. He can sometimes seem foolish and is slow to take things as seriously as they deserve, but he’s a bright spot in the midst of chaos. It’s possible that he’s one of the younger characters, inexperienced and less aware of the danger, but he might also be some boisterous barbarian hero of a hundred battles. The main thing is that he’s usually ready with a laugh and proclamation of enjoyment.

A cheerful character can be a real boost to a game. This is the character who gets everyone energized, boosts spirits, and shows enthusiasm for the group’s quest. This is the one that can bring some happiness to things when they get a bit bleak.

Learn to vary the brightness setting on your happy switch. Vary between “having fun” when things are good and “sympathizing and encouraging” when things have gotten worse. The strength of this character type is his ability to pull other people through trials by just…being himself. Maybe he’s inspirational, maybe he’s just lovable…the method doesn’t matter. What matters is that his good mood can be infectious.

He can keep everyone interested in the quest by being ready and rarin’ to go at any moment. He can pull the party’s mood back up with a cheery thought or optimistic view when things went a little sideways.

Written well, he can be endearing and loved by the other players.

Written poorly, he can be absolute destruction to any sense of drama.

If everything’s getting bleak and he’s all sunshine and rainbows and butterflies, it can feel like one of two things. One…he’s an idiot, and everyone needs to make sure he actually understands what’s happening. Or two…you, the player, don’t recognize that the story needs to be dramatic.

So, like I said above, vary your brightness setting. Tone it down when things get tougher–you can still be the happiest member of the team, but remember that it’s all relative. Turn from “everything is wonderful” to “I know it’s bad, but we’re going to make it through!” Acknowledge the drama of the situation, and what’s gone wrong, and what it means. Just keep pushing for the possibility of pulling through and making it back to the light.

But when things get to their darkest, remember that this character type has an unparalleled ability to make the other players (and any readers) feel it like a punch in the soul.

I’m going to say this a lot over these posts, but the most important thing you can learn about writing a personality is when to break away from that personality–when to use a change (temporary or permanent) in behavior to emphasize a moment in the story.

In the case of a cheerful person, what you want to watch out for is pretty simple: where’s the point where things get so dire that he’s not cheerful anymore?

When things get really bad, and even the guy that’s all smiles and “boy, this sure is a fun adventure!” can’t say that anymore…when even he seems to be falling apart…that’s when you know things just escalated to another level.

When that moment comes up, don’t miss it. Don’t take the opportunity to make another joke or perk people up. Let the cheery side fall apart. It doesn’t have to be permanent (in fact, it’s usually depressing if it is). You can put it back together later on, when they get past the worst of it or when he finds a way to be happy despite what’s going on. But in the moment…let it crumble.

Believe me, that hurts to read. Even if its just momentary, that part of the story where the guy that brought everyone else up, that encouraged everyone through every trial, that found the fun in whatever was going on…the part where that guy falters and shows the signs of the struggle, where he feels sorrow or pain or fear…that hits hard.

It’s like there’s a storm going on and the power just went out, plunging everyone into the dark.

I’m presently playing a character, Blythe Brenton, in High-Flying Ransom, hosted by @Rattannah. He’s a cheery absent-minded (and perhaps slightly mad) scientist type, one of several people being held captive by an adventurer captain who turned out to be more interested in prisoners than passengers.. His name means “cheerful” (I love symbolic character names). His whole concept is that he’s happy-go-lucky and doesn’t really understand that he’s gotten wrapped up in a bad situation–he just wants interesting things to experiment on, and he’s built bad things but never really considered what people might want to do with them. He’s a genius, but doesn’t have a concept of anything outside his lab.

And just recently, I found the point to break with that. For the first time ever, he was forced to recognize someone’s intent in using one of his inventions. For the first time, someone confronted him about the fact that not only was his work going to be used to kill a lot of people, but that those people were ones who’d been trying to come and help him.

That, clearly, was where to turn off the cheerful switch. Blythe had to realize and acknowledge what was going on. There were two choices–one, acknowledge it but not care (making Blythe a villain), or two, acknowledge it and break the cheerful side (making Blythe capable of being a hero). I chose to break the cheerful side. Blythe, horrified at the realization of what was about to happen, became absolutely desperate to stop it…and even once that situation ended, he spent the next scene hiding in fear as the fact of just how much danger he was in finally broke through to him.

I like to think, at least, that doing that allowed the seriousness of the situation to really, truly hit home.

That’s just a general example of how I think a cheerful character can be used to aid drama rather than to break it. You don’t always have to go that far–but letting the cheerful side fade when appropriate is important. Cheerful characters can be great fun in games, but when the drama rises, you need to be willing to let them react to it appropriately.

More on personalities to come. Is there a personality type you’d like to see me analyze? Let me know in the comments!