Thursday, March 14, 2013

Characters in the Color Pie

I am frequently amazed at how often my two major hobbies seem to support one another. I have mentioned in previous articles how my love for Magic the Gathering provides inspiration for my fantasy writing. Today, I want to talk about an integral part of that great game and how it can be used as a tool to help develop great characters for science fiction or fantasy works. As you might have guessed from the adjacent image, I am talking about what is known as the Color Pie.

Last week I was listening to an episode of Mark Rosewater's excellent Drive to Work podcast where he discusses how the Color Pie is one of the fundamental elements that makes the game so brilliant. More as an aside than anything else, he mentioned how certain characters in fiction could be analyzed in terms of how their personality and traits matches up with the traits of the different colors in the Color Pie. I immediately was intrigued by the idea, and haven't been able to stop thinking about it for the past several days.

At their heart, the five colors can be broken down into five dominant characteristics:




As seen above, these can be further divided into specific emotions or traits:
Morality, Order, Uncreative, Law, Peace

 Logic, Technology, Intellect, Omniscience, Inaction
 Parasitism, Amorality, Self Concern, Omnipotence, Paranoia

 Impulse, Chaos, Freedom, Action, Short-Sightedness

 Community, Interdependence, Naive, Growth, Nature

And then to really add complexity, one must also consider the ten different two color combinations and their own resulting nuance from such a combination. Technically, one could even stretch to include the five tri-color shards from Alara, but such a level of complexity is probably not necessary.

So how does this apply to writing good characters? These fifteen different traits (the 5 colors + the 10 2-color combinations) can easily be used as a diverse set of character archetypes for fiction. In doing so, you must keep in mind, however, that simply having one or more of these traits is not enough to define a character by that color. For example, just because a character is part of a community does not make him Green. Instead, a character can be said to be one of these archetypes if he or she values these traits above others in his or her life and actively strives to achieve them in daily living. Let me show you what I mean.

Imagine a scribe named Gerald, a low ranking official in the sprawling Empire of Yreth. As part of a large and complex hierarchy of government, Gerald takes his duties quite seriously. He is intimately familiar with the judicial codes, and believes that strict adherence to the law is the best way to protect the Empire. Even at home he insists the family eat together each evening, observing polite table manners on all occasions. He follows the same routine each day, and is quite perturbed when he arrives at his post one day to discover his desk overturned and the partially digested corpse of a giant rat lying on the floor in a pool of vomit and blood. What color archetype best fits Gerald?

So what do you think of this concept? Does the Magic the Gathering Color Pie function as a useful set of character archetypes, or does its rigid structures stifle creativity? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

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