Utilizing Script Immunity

Spoilers for Game of Thrones.

I mostly learned about script immunity through table top role playing games. It’s when a character cannot die, an item cannot be lost or broken, or an event cannot be derailed no matter how hard the characters try. This primarily comes up because in a table top role playing game, the players can and will do everything in their power to destroy everything you’ve built. Players will find a way to vanquish the main bad guy in the second scene, when they have a chance encounter with him. The magical key that’s meant to open the vault at the end of the adventure will get pawned off to a local gnome. The ballroom event you so carefully planned, the characters will decide to go throw dice in a gambling den instead. Some storytellers, especially early on, have a tendency to railroad the characters. The villain is invincible (done that). The gnome refuses to buy the item (not yet). The gambling den burns down and any other place in town they’d rather be than the ball blows up in a horrible round of gang attacks (which then leads to the players skipping the ball to kill the gang…not that I’ve done something like this). Script immunity was to make sure all the hard work of the storyteller wasn’t circumvented in thirty seconds of decision making or a few lucky dice rolls.

There is also script immunity for characters. The dice are fudged so that player characters cannot die. I have done this on occasion, but when used all the time, the players realize they can’t die. This leads to a great amount of abuse, as they know, at the end of the game, they will be standing over the corpses of their enemies. Novels, movies, video games, and every other media does this to an extent as well.

Disney princesses will never die. The princesses will always come to the rescue (though current trend is tending towards the princess will come to the rescue). The villain will be dealt with in a way that doesn’t make the prince and princess villains, but is deserving of the horrible things the villain has done. The good guys are script immune.

In adventure movies like Indiana Jones, even if he loses the rare relic, it will end up back within his grasp. That relic is tied to him, and he will never go long without it at least being close enough for him to get it. These characters are lucky individuals, and the adventure genre would be nothing without the strange happenstance that leads to these relics showing up out of nowhere, nearly always leading to a shoot out, an amazing chase, or a race to the finish line.

In a heist movie, the heist will happen. Nothing will derail it, even if those being robbed from know the heist is coming, there will be a comical, ingenious, unbelievably clever hoist with plenty of backstabbing. The event is preordained, and though with good reason (who wants to watch Oceans 11 where ten minutes before the heist the police arrest the crew?), the event will never be derailed, no matter what horrible things happen leading up to it.

Sometimes something amazing happens. We are led to believe there is script immunity. A safe zone is created that we, as readers/viewers/gamers are allowed to hover within without concern for our character’s well being. In Game of Thrones, while reading about Bran climbing Winterfell castle, we are led to believe this boy has great potential. He can climb as adeptly at such a young age that surely he will become a great acrobat, spy, or any number of other professions that require such dexterity. For an entire chapter, our imagination for this child’s potential is allowed to soar into the sky on eagle’s wings. And at the end of the chapter, we watch Bran fall, shattering his legs. While it may have relieved us of the fear he was dead, the chapter on Bran didn’t just make us want Bran to survive, we wanted to watch him grow up, legs in tact. He may as well been dead to us at that moment. Or Eddard Stark, the most honorable man in that first book. Sure he stumbled, having a bastard child, but that makes him human. As he went about, planning out how to save the throne, he watched as his friend died in a hunting accident, and then, because he gave his enemy a chance for mercy, he was killed. Leading up to Ned’s execution, we thought he had been spared, even if he were to play a significantly smaller role than he had thus far, just to have our hopes lopped off in front of a large crowd.

This happens time and again, getting the reader to the point of realizing everyone in the book is on the chopping block. No one is immortal. No one’s plots are immune to someone else’s ambitions. More than once, we learn of this great and grand scheme, to watch it severed because someone else had a plan. We thought Danny was going to have a great son that would rule over the seven kingdoms, to watch her son be stillborn and a freak, and her husband, the great Drogo, to be more or less brain dead. All because of some sheep magician Danny thought to save, the greatest threat to Westeros for the time, was headed off.

Reading Martin opened my own eyes to our perceptions of script immunity. Going into any story, we’ve already picked out which character will or will not die. When an author talks about the grand plans of an event, we always assume that event will happen. Events cut short are just as staggering as a character’s death. Death is the end of potential in both cases, leaving the reader to wonder, what if?

Think of a book you read. What events and characters had the most impact? Most of the time, it’s those which jump outside of our perceived immunity. Table top helped me plan for this, but instead of writing out a perfect plot, I try to create settings and characters, each with purpose and ambition. When those hit a crossroads with other characters, think of which one will win. Dreams are usually so planned out that people don’t expect them to fail. Everyone has failed dreams, and so it is something the reader can relate to. When you kill your favorite character off, as long as it makes sense and is suiting, you’ve also killed off the reader’s favorite character.

In short, don’t be afraid to create grand plans and destroy them. Don’t be afraid to build up awesome characters, and cripple or kill them. Especially in fantasy, where some of the events are too difficult for some to relate to, human tragedy is always relatable.

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