Movie making, Chekhov's guns and Aspects


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This is inspired by this thread about Aspects in Fate. This entry is largely Fate related but probably could work for a variety of games that are story simulators rather than physics simulators.

The late film critic Roger Ebert had something called The Law of Economy of Characters, which said that if there's a seemingly extraneous character in a movie, they're going to prove to be very important in the end. Because it's very expensive to make a movie, and you don't hire someone you don't need. So it there's a mystery where you need to figure out who the killer is, and one of the characters doesn't seem to have a need to be in the movie, they're probably the murderer.

There's also the "Chekhov's Gun" guideline. Playwright Anton Chekhov said that if you show a gun on the mantelpiece in act one of a play, it must be fired by the end. Because the purpose of a gun is to shoot people, and there's no reason to mention a dangerous object if it's never going to come into play.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules, but they serve as important guidelines for a certain type of storytelling: everything mentioned should be important. Which leads to a corollary:
If you mention something, make it important to the story.

One of the examples in the thread linked above was that someone might have an Aspect in Fate, Tall. Which doesn't sound particularly flavorful, especially in a game where someone else could conceivably have the Aspect The Undisputed King of Creation. But the fact someone wrote it on the character sheet means it should come up in the game. Probably about as often. "Of course the robber told me he hid the goods in this room. He was totally overwhelmed by being addressed by the Undisputed King and confessed." "Yes. I can see them on this high cabinet because I'm tall."

On a more practical explanation, this is why the Justice League doesn't need to be power-balanced, narratively speaking. The fact Hawk Girl just flies and smashes things, which Superman can also do but much better, doesn't matter. Because whenever she's on screen the writers will focus on cool flying and smashing stuff, not on how she can't bench press a tank.

It also means that ideally you don't just say something for exposition. In the Princess Bride, when Inigo Montoya says he'll fight the Dread Pirate Roberts left handed, he's not merely bragging he's an amazing sword fighter. He's saying the fact he isn't using his dominant hand will soon pay off. (In Fate terms, he's placed the holding back aspect on himself to bring to bear later in the fight, invoking it by saying "I am not left handed.")
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