Writing: Meet Johnny Doe

-December 12th, 2012

As I mentioned a week or two ago, Ed and I have been batting around the idea of writing new Pinebox short stories to be collected into a shared world anthology.  The general idea is to create a “Scooby gang” of characters who would appear in a variety of adventures set on and around the ETU campus.

Since I don’t have anything new to report with regard to Degrees of Horror, I thought it might be fun to do a little character creation exercise.  Maybe the character will get used in the anthology (IF said book ever gets off the ground) or maybe not, but either way I hope it’ll be a fun experiment.

For this character I’m using my new, favorite idea generator called Story Forge. It’s a tarot-style card deck marked with broad story-telling themes. I absolutely love it. I won’t go into great detail about how it works– just follow the link and watch a couple of the demonstration videos.

To get things started, let’s say our incoming ETU Freshman’s name is Johnny Doe. I have a vague idea for a character who epitomizes “nice guys finish last”, but we’ll see what kind of writing prompts the cards give us.

This is what I drew for Johnny's backstory card spread. Also, my bedspread.

This is what I drew for Johnny’s backstory card spread. Also, my bedspread.

Card 1: Character’s mother- Imbalance
This could be interpreted many different ways, but I’m going to go with a mental disorder such as manic-depressive.

Card 2: Character’s Father- The Doctor
I wavered between small town MD or dentist, but let’s go with MD.

Card 3: The strength of their relationshipWeakness
Wow! That’s an interesting dynamic. Story Forge advises to re-draw any cards that don’t make sense, but I like making difficult connections. I’d say the strength of their relationship is their co-dependence. Mom needs the doctor to help her manage her condition and he needs to feel needed.

Card 4: The problems between themIndustry
The doctor’s responsibilities keep him busy, leaving him less time for his wife’s needs. This resulted in lots of conflict at home, maybe driving his mom to “self medicate” through alcohol.

Card 5: Circumstances of the character’s birthDesire
It’s nice to know that the flame still burns, huh?

Card 6: Complications, if anyEpiphany
The card’s description says “In an overwhelming instant, the true nature of the universe and one’s place in it are revealed”. Probably not terribly relevant, but if we want to weave it back into the narrative we could say that dad was forced to choose between being present at his son’s birth or saving the life of a patient elsewhere in the hospital. His acceptance of his responsibility as a healer that night led him to become a workaholic (Industry in card 4), at the expense of his family life.

Card 7: The universe’s influence on the character’s natureThe Relative
Now we get an interesting twist. Mom was sometimes difficult to be around and dad was always gone, so Grandpa became a major influence in Johnny’s life growing up.

Card 8: Early StrengthsThe Criminal
Um… did I say I liked making difficult connections? This is hard to weave into the narrative we’ve started building, but let’s give it a shot. My guess is that he went through a shoplifting phase as a young teen–maybe even inspired by Grandpa’s stories of his wild youth. In this case it’s a strength because a) it became a coping mechanism for his strained home life, and b) ironically, his dreams of becoming a master criminal taught him self-discipline, obsessive planning, and careful observation.

Card 9: Early weaknessThe jilted
Whereas card 8 was a total departure from how I imagined this character, card 9 is exactly what I’d envisioned. Many of us have experienced love gone awry as a teenager, but for him it became a repeating theme.

Card 10: EducationPoverty
This card doesn’t make a lot of sense at first, but if you consider that he grew up in a small, rural town with a poor public school then his formal education opportunities were probably limited.

Card 11: Belief foundationWrath
I’d say Johnny hasn’t benefited from a structured home environment and his experiences with teenage love have left him heartbroken and bitter. He carries anger inside and believes “an eye for an eye” is the best policy.

Card 12: Life experienceInfidelity
Ouch. Bending this back around to “the jilted” makes perfect sense. As a teen in high school, both girls he dated ended up seeing other guys behind his back until the gossip caught up. These experiences are shaping him into a distrustful “lone wolf”.

Card 13: A shaping experience in recent timesThe monster
I’m sure a lot of times this card is interpreted figuratively, but in our case we’re going literal. Let’s bring this back around to Wrath. During his senior year, Johnny found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him. He wanted revenge but his personal motto –Never get caught– gave him pause. While trying to use a “curse” he found on the internet, he instead accidentally summoned a wraith. Through sheer luck, he disrupted the summoning before it could kill him.

Card 14: An experience that left scarsChastity
Let’s just weave this in with Jilted and Infidelity. His relationship with his teen love was chaste, whereas her infidelity wasn’t.

Card 15: The state of the character at the beginning of the story- Gnosis
Described as “A firm understanding of the difference between good and evil allows one to choose with certainty, but one must still make that choice.” I’m going to tie this in to his encounter with the monster. He realizes now that true evil exists, which makes the heartache of his love life a minor quibble by comparison. Johnny can continue a path of hard-hearted Wrath, or he can try to find a new way.

I’d say we have a pretty good handle on this character, wouldn’t you? It would certainly be enough to start role-playing, even if some of the backstory about his parents never comes to light. We could probably summarize Johnny like so:

Johnny Doe grew up as a troubled teen in an upper-middle class home with self-absorbed parents. For a time, he applied himself to theft the way other boys studied rocketry or video games, but a couple of close brushes with the law convinced him to “retire” and find other pursuits. Although not friendless, a chain of teenage heartbreaks turned him bitter and angry toward romance. However, a life-changing encounter with the supernatural caused him to re-evaluate the course of his life and he is looking for a new beginning at ETU.

If I were statting out Johnny for Degrees of Horror, I’d give him Lockpicking, Fighting, Guts, Healing, Investigation, Notice, and Stealth. I’m adding Fighting although his history doesn’t directly call it out because Wild Cards in a Horror setting need it, if only for the Parry. If I had to justify it in his back story, I’d say that after giving up theft he turned to martial arts for excitement. For hindrances, I’d give him Loyal (Minor) and Vengeful (Minor) but there’s a lot of wiggle room in there, as is the case with Edges.

To be honest, Johnny didn’t exactly turn out to be the “nice guys finish last” character I’d been considering. However, he’s certainly interesting! His breaking and entering skills might just come in handy and his bad luck with love would be fertile ground for great secondary plots. What do you think?

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