Game Development Reference
The best way to avoid having characters look stupid is, of course, to avoid having
them do stupid things. This may not be possible, though—the plot or gameplay may
necessitate someone wandering into dark areas with only a sputtering flashlight and
a six-shot revolver, or reading from a book of ancient evil, or striking a deal with a
demon lord who's obviously going to renege at the earliest opportunity. And if that's
the case, then the stupid action needs to get cast in context that makes it look at least
a little less stupid, if not outright understandable.
The best technique for doing so lies with strong character-building, particularly
in the area of motivation. The first question anyone ever asks when a character does
something egregiously dumb is, “Why did they do that?” The smart writer has a
ready, believable, and accessible answer. If he's really on his game, he's answered
the question before it's asked through the character's dialogue and previous actions,
so that it seems completely believable and the question never comes up at all. If the
character is prone to wandering around in dark places by his lonesome and scoffing at
stories of monsters, establish that he's a long-time skeptic and that none of the other
stories he's been told have ever amounted to anything. That way, the character's
action is more believable, and the player gets a little frisson of schadenfreude for
having known better.
Avoiding Clich e
Familiarity breeds contempt, and it's hard for things that you have contempt for to
frighten you. The cliches of the horror genre, then, are deadly to true horror and
should be avoided at all cost. These include, but by no means are limited to, the
Bad imitation Lovecraftian chanting, usually with an eight-to-one ratio of con-
sonants to vowels.
Vampires with Transylvanian accents.
Zombies who groan ”braaaaains,” unless they do it ironically.
Cackling mad scientist infodump loaded with a double helping of pseudo-
Ancient evil demonic overlords explaining exactly how ancient and evil they
are (bonus points if they somehow work in Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, or any
other piece of subaqueous real estate).
And so forth.
And yet there is a reason things like this become cliches, and that's because on
a base level, they serve a useful purpose. Zombies (of a certain sub-species) do like
brains, and this gets the point across. Lovecraftian chanting, at least in the original,
emphasized the otherworldly nature of what was going on, and so forth. But just
because it worked then doesn't mean that it works now. Instead, the best approach