Using Character “Hand-Offs”

What is a Hand-off?

A hand-off occurs when one player temporarily takes on the story function of a missing player. This new player carries the dramatic flag for the scene in question, then hands it back to the original player upon his return.

Doesn’t this violate the Dramatica guideline that every Objective Character is the sole representative of his unique characteristics? Not really. Having one character be the sole representative of a characteristics is a guideline, not a law. The essential part of that guideline is that a character does not change his internal inventory of characteristics during the course of the story. A player, however, is not bound by that restriction.

In a hand-off the player is not actually giving up a characteristic because he isn’t around when another character is using it, so technically the first player is never seen without it. But due to this, he cannot share characteristics with other players at the same time. If he did, two characters might be trying to represent the same point of view in the same scene, making dramatic tension just go limp.

How to Do Hand-offs

When we employ the hand-off, we actually create two players to represent the same trait at different times. It is reminiscent of time-sharing a condo. In any given scene, a single point of view might be represented by character “A” or by character “B,” but never by both in the same scene.

Most often, one of the players will be a major player and the other just a “plot device” player of convenience who appears for one scene and is never heard from again. Such players just fill in the gaps. Sometimes, both players prove intriguing to the author and each becomes a major player. The difficulty then arises that at the climax of the story, both players might still be alive and kicking and therefore suddenly converge in an awkward moment. No matter what you do, it’s going to be klunky. Still, if you must have both present, it’s best to either make a statement in the story that they have the same characteristic(s), thereby binding them in the mind of the audience, or deal with them one after another.

A special case exists when (for whatever reason) an author decides to terminate a player from the story. This can be a result of sending the player to its death, to the Moon or just having it leave at some point and not return. Often, this technique is used to shock an audience or throw them a red herring. Unless the functions represented by the discontinued player reappear in another player, however, part of the story’s argument will disappear at the point the original drops out. In the attempt to surprise an audience by killing off a major player, many an author has doomed an otherwise functional storyform.

There are two primary ways in which a discontinued player’s functions can continue without him. Certainly the easiest is to bring in a new player who is dramatically identical to the first, although its personal attributes are usually quite different. Often the storytelling requirements of a plot deem one player more suited to part of a story and another player to be more in line with the rest. By killing off the first player but continuing its dramatic function through a new player, both purposes can be served to the best storytelling effect without a loss of dramatic continuity. The major caveat is that the audience must be made aware that this “dead hand-off” has occurred so it does not suddenly sense a vacuum in the story’s argument. This may require a fair amount of introduction to solidly place the new player in the old role.

The second technique for replacing a player yet continuing the character’s functions is to divide the functions among several new players, each representing only a portion of what had previously been contained in one. Naturally, these new players would be less complex than their predecessor, which may diminish nuance at certain levels of the story. On the plus side, this method scatters the functions into new bodies, allowing for external conflicts between functions that were previously blended into a single individual. Once again, informing the audience of who got what is essential to the smooth progression of this type of hand-off.

From the Dramatica Theory Book