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Storyboard: Archetype discussion -- the Defiant

Eliot Lefebvre

If you were born around the same time that I was, then the odds are good you have the plucky princess seared into your brain by means both dark and Disneyean. You know the one I'm talking about: the girl possessed of a fair bit of good sense and independent thought who doesn't want to be a stay-in-court princess, despite her father's insistence that she'll get attacked by a bear within five seconds of leaving. So within 15 minutes she leaves anyway, and lo and behold, the next two hours of the film are devoted to the variety of bear-related mishaps that ensue.

But there's more to this than a line of somewhat nauseating merchandise for young girls. There's an archetype here, one for people of both genders who kick convention to the curb and opt for something just a bit more stimulating and challenging -- even though they're not always well-suited to those challenges. So let's take a look at the Defiant archetype past the cut. (And you can go ahead and hum Part of your World while you do so, if necessary. It's OK.)

What is the character?

Everyone has a certain set of external expectations in place. Your parents have a pretty good idea of what you'll be doing when you grow up, your peers think they know what you'll be best at, and even the books you read and movies you watch extol a certain set of virtues. Whether you're born into privilege or the lack thereof, you're expected to continue on the tradition of your position in the social strata.

The Defiant quickly decides that that's for the birds. So she gets out. Quickly, and usually with a few white lies in the process. Much like the Trapped, she's running from something, but unlike that archetype, she doesn't want to be back at home. Home is the root of the problem; the road is where she can do whatever she feels like doing, and that makes the road more appealing at the moment. Nothing is keeping her exiled except her own refusal to go back.

What's the angle?

By definition, the Defiant is probably not where she ought to be. Whether you're running from a life in high places or low ones, the very premise means you've left all of your resources (however limited) out of your life for the foreseeable future. People without resources or roots tend to wind up in an occupation for which roots aren't terribly important, hence an adventurous lifestyle awaits. (OK, in the real world, high adventure is probably the last thing you can expect from discarding everything, but that's just depressing.)

Usually, the Defiant's background also gives an idea for where she fits in terms of abilities. She might have a knack for forcing her way past locked doors and gates, a gift for convincing people to look the other way, or even just a real talent for running like her life depends upon it. Be aware, though, that the Defiant is usually not quite as good as she thinks, and the vast majority of her skills are going to be centered around her old life rather than her new one. An escaped princess might have taken a few dozen fencing lessons from a kind old guard, so she's a better fighter than your average princess, but she's not going to be besting master swordsmen who've spent years practicing the craft.

What makes it interesting?

If there was ever an archetype that screamed backstory hooks, this would be it. There's obviously a lot that happened prior to the Defiant's being on the road, and that can provide all sorts of hooks for longer storytelling. It's also something that can be alluded to with subtlety or with brute force, depending on your preference at the time. Even better, you could have the character eventually go back to face her past... or you could just leave it there and focus on the now instead.

And the Defiant does have a rather awkward present, for sure. The fantasy that running off into the wild blue yonder will fix everything is just that, and it's a fundamentally teenage way of looking at the world to boot. You've got a character who doesn't fit in her old world but is also not quite strong enough or fast enough or smart enough to blend naturally with characters who have been training their whole lives. If you like to play a fish out of water, the Defiant is more or less assured of always remaining just a bit outside her natural element.

What should I keep in mind?

While the Defiant isn't quite as good as anyone else, she should still have good cause to be useful and likable. Even if she isn't as quick a draw with a gun as anyone else in a group, she still can handle one with competence and hold her own eight times out of ten. While it's worth remembering that the archetype lends itself to slightly less-skilled characters, you're also talking about someone with a lot of will and drive.

And that might be the principle thing to remember -- the Defiant isn't a waif way out of her depth; she's a very competent individual with ambition who just happens to be a bit out of her depth. Playing her as the Stupid Rich Girl or Ignorant Peasant Girl (swap according to gender, naturally) is selling the archetype short. She makes up for her lack of practical knowledge with a willpower that could move mountains; don't fall into the trap of making her helpless just because you can.

If you've missed one of the previous archetype columns, here are the predecessors:

Next week, as I recover from the controlled madness of PAX East, we're going to take a look at regrets, maudlin though that might seem. After that, I think we've got one or two more archetype columns left before this little mini-series gets wrapped up for good.

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.

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