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Author Topic: Willem's Approach to Character Creation  (Read 902 times)

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Willem's Approach to Character Creation
« on: June 23, 2013, 09:39:36 PM »
Character Creation


What is this?
These are some ideas for character creation that could be helpful for newbies, veterans, or other people who are struggling with any aspect of the RP process. I'm going to split this discussion into two general topics: character creation and role-playing. For some people, creating a compelling character is the hardest part. For others, trying to figure out what to do thereafter, or how, is more difficult. Hopefully this will give either type of person some ideas that can help jump-start their own creative juices.

Why did you write this?
Because I love role-playing, because I get frustrated seeing others struggling to find their voice, and because some very nice and flattering people actually said that they'd like me to write something about it.

So, you think you're better at this than everyone else, huh?!!
Nope! This is my own personal approach to writing role-play and fantasy. I'm not in any way claiming that you should do it this way, or that my way is better than any other way. This is simply what works for me, most of the time. My main hope is that some people who are struggling to get going will garner some helpful ideas and find their own voice. I've found that considering the approaches of other writers is even helpful for me, especially when I get "stuck."

Where do I post my character application?
This post has no direct relationship to the Hidden Realms character application process. However, I don't doubt that a character created through use of this process will have a much easier time passing the application process here at Hidden Realms. If you feel you're ready to tackle a character app for Hidden Realms, head over to the Character Applications board.

My Overall Approach
I call my approach the "question-and-answer" approach to role-playing. For me, character creation and role-playing are simply a series of questions and answers that I ask myself. I build upon my characters by asking myself questions, and then writing the answers. Then I repeat this process again and again until I feel happy with the results. It's a very iterative process that builds upon itself.

Character Creation

Creating a new character for a world can be very challenging, even overwhelming for some. Below are some of the steps I use to create a new character. Just as with a real-world person, a character arises from the confluence of many different elements - the world, the character, the character's upbringing, culture, etc. With that in mind, remember that skipping past any of the suggestions below can result in a character that just doesn't feel as complex and compelling as you would like.

So, here are the steps (or questions) that I would follow to get started with a new character.

Caveat: Just to save myself from awkward turns of phrase, I will refer to these fictional characters as "he." No offense intended!

1. What is the world this character lives in? - Before you even start to think up a character, or write a profile, it's very important to understand the world, whether it's Hidden Realms or not. Most role-playing forums provide detailed information about the world they are set in - maps, history, and other resources. (For Hidden Realms, I would suggest spending some time reading through the Lite Library, and if you find yourself hungry for more, the Grand Library). The world your character will life in will have a profound impact on your character's race, culture, childhood, abilities, etc.

2. What is my character's basic profile? - I think of the "basic profile" for a role-playing character as race, gender, age, and name. Quite obviously, it's difficult to do this without answering question #1 first. I don't typically decide on a profession or "class" at this point. I'm trying to define a person first, and worry about what he does later on.

Reynaldo Curn, 16-year old human male

Some people prefer to take notes or draw an outline when creating a character. I find that if I immediately start to write things in sentence form, it makes creating a character biography much easier later on:

Reynaldo Curn is a sixteen-year old human male.

3. What is my character's general physical appearance? (Height, weight, build, hair, eyes, etc.)

Reynaldo Curn is a sixteen year-old human male. He is tall and skinny, and he has long, greasy black hair.

4. What else about his physical appearance? Does he have any physical deformities? What distinctive physical characteristics does he have? These questions are, in my opinion, one of the keys to creating a memorable character. As I add to my mini-bio, I also start to add in adjectives to give a stronger impression:

Reynaldo Curn is a wholly unattractive sixteen year-old human male. He is tall and skinny, and his long, greasy black hair dangles lifelessly around his shoulders. His face is long, thin, and pock-marked from a past bout with some unpleasant disease, and it hosts close-set eyes that are an unremarkable brown. He has an upturned, almost rat-like nose that quivers noticeably. Reynaldo has the look of someone who has never been well-fed, but his arms and legs are corded with wiry muscle.

5. Where is he from? It's important to mesh this with the world in which your character will live. For example, the background of a human who grew up in orc-infested lands would be much different than that of a human who grew up in a large and peaceful human city. One thing the folks at Hidden Realms have struggled with is players who create characters who stand well alone, but who don't fit into the Hidden Realms world at all. The world should help define your character - you shouldn't create a character and just plop him into the world!

Reynaldo was raised in the Slum District in Wrahenville, a large city of close to tenscore souls, the vast majority of whom lived in poverty and squalor.

6. What is his background? (What is his family like? What was his life like as a child? What has he done up until today? What was his relationship with his parents? What kinds of friends did he have? What were his hobbies?)

7. What is his personality like? - It probably seems weird to wait this long to tackle the personality, but for me, the personality won't start to crystalize until I teach myself a little bit about where he came from.

8. What does he do? It's not until this point that I will usually start to think about a profession or "class" for my character. For me, the class or profession usually flows very naturally from the combination of things above. If you paint a picture of a pensive child who is weak physically and full of love, it's not going to make much sense if you have him be an assassin.

9. What particular skills does he have? Again, skills should grow naturally out of the character's background. If you've painted a picture of a blacksmith's apprentice who grew up working 14-hour days in the forge, you'll have to work hard to convince people that he's an expert lute player.

The Iterative Process

Once I get to around question # 6, process becomes even more iterative. Each time I answer a question, like "what were his hobbies," I will ask myself more questions and force myself to explore him deeper. If his hobby was fishing: "Where did he fish?" "Was he good at it?" "Did he fish alone?" and so on. I answer these in writing by painting a picture of his experiences in that regard.

Other Suggestions
Here are a few more suggestions that can help to make your character more unique:
  • When you think you've written enough, ask yourself and answer two more questions about your character.
  • Avoid extremes. So many writers (especially young RPers) are attracted towards characters who excel, and it's often taken to extremes. But in reality, it's difficult for many readers to identify with the character who is faster, stronger, more powerful, has the coolest things. A character with normal skills, but an interesting story, is often far more compelling to read than an uber-powerful antisocial dark elf assassin. If you must use extremes, extreme POTENTIAL is much more interesting to write about than extreme SKILL.
  • Check the spelling and grammar in your bio before posting it anywhere. The best concept can be ruined by a bad presentation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in movies. Don't make your character a box office flop by filling it with typos, grammatical mistakes, and missing punctuation! First impressions are very important, even in the role-playing world. A well-worded and carefully presented bio makes readers interested in role-playing with you, or reading more about your character. Mistake-riddled posts make people want to avoid you.
  • Leave something to the imagination. Want a powerful item? Save it for your first adventure! People want to share your accomplishments, not read about them after the fact.

That's about it for my character creation process.

Guide to Roleplay


Part 1 of this covered the character creation process. I've been approached before by writers who have an easy time creating a character, but then get stuck on the "What do I do now?" part. Others are looking for help in making their posts more interesting. This section shares some ideas for how to role-play, especially in a threaded forum like Hidden Realms. As with the character creation, my approach to this is in "question-and-answer" format.

Caveat: Once again, this is just my personal approach. I don't claim that this approach is any better than anyone else's. This is just what works for me most of the time. I find this approach keeps me from getting "stuck," especially in forum-based role-playing.

1. Pick a goal - If you're just starting out, it makes sense to have a goal for your character. It could certainly be a lofty goal like "save the city from the Evil Things." However, progress in a play-by-post forum is typically very slow, and I've found that it's best to choose a very simple goal for your character. Even something as simple as "get Fred to the next town" is likely to be enough to get your character moving. Often, the plot of your story won't cooperate anyway, even if you plan it out.

2. Talk about your feelings - A lot of people who aren't comfortable with their writing tend to write pretty dryly. By which I mean, they fail to fully describe what is going on. Someone who is inexperienced or lacks confidence might write something like this:

Snake, the tall thief lord, walked up to Trina and said, "That's a pretty little trinket you have."

One sentence, and already this is a great scene! But, to me, one of the keys to good writing is to continually teach yourself and your readers more about your characters. In this case, add in some of Trina's feelings, and all of a sudden you've learned more about her. The more we learn about Trina, the more we grow attached to her:

Snake, the tall thief lord, walked up to Trina and said, "That's a pretty little trinket you have." Trina shivered involuntarily. He sounded uncannily like her father, and her mind reeled with unwanted memories.

With these few changes, we have a hint of something dark in Trina's past, and we have a much better sense of how this encounter is making Trina feel!

3. Words words words! - For a play-by-post role-player, words are your friend. Not only does the right word vastly improve a sentence, but the more you push yourself to learn new words, the more expressive your own writing will become. For example, I think a very simple change to that last paragraph makes a huge difference:

Snake, the tall thief lord, walked up to Trina and hissed, "That's a pretty little trinket you have." Trina shivered involuntarily. He sounded uncannily like her father, and her mind reeled with unwanted memories.

It seems like a small thing, but using the word "hissed" instead of "said" gives the whole phrase a much more sinister feel.

One small way to improve your vocabulary is to find a word-a-day web site or something, and try to incorporate today's word into your post. Don't force it though. Lots of web sites have mailers that can mail you a word each day. I believe Mirriam Webster's site is one of these,

4. Think small - This is very difficult for people who learned their interest in roleplaying from video games. In a video game, the only goal is to accomplish the quest. One key to developing interesting characters is to write about the small stuff. The quest, assuming there is one, is only a means to learn about the characters. In our running example, we have learned that Trina has unwanted memories about her father. It could have no impact at all on her quest or whatever she's doing right now, but it darned well teaches us more about her.  You could take that and run with it, along these lines:

Snake, the tall thief lord, walked up to Trina and hissed, "That's a pretty little trinket you have." Trina shivered involuntarily. He sounded uncannily like her father, and her mind reeled with unwanted memories. She could feel the greasy caress of his callused hands, and his tender whispers that conflicted so horribly with the leer on his face.

So now, with one sentence, we've painted a picture of sexual abuse and terrible trauma in Trina's background. Because Trina is sympathetic, this makes the reader worried for Trina, and anxious, and curious about what happened in her past. You could expand on that now, or bring it up again later in another post. You could also have a recurring theme of Trina trying to deal with that trauma. In forum role-playing, I feel that revealing a character gradually has a more potent effect than submitting 2-page posts that cover huge chunks of history.

5. Learn one more thing each post - When I do play-by-post, I always start with a character that seems interesting, but has the potential to grow. I mentioned this a bit during the character creation section. You don't want to create a character who has already accomplished huge amounts, because it gives you little room to grow, or causes your accomplishments to seem anticlimactic. I don't know everything about a character when I start role-playing with him or her. My personal goal is that in each post I write, I should learn one new thing about my character. That could be something like what we just did with Trina, or in a future post, I might choose to delve further into that history.

6. Use downtime for flashbacks - In play-by-posts, there is an unfortunate tendency for threads to get bogged down when multiple players are involved, but some post less frequently than others. If you find yourself stuck, waiting for someone else to post so that action can move forward, use that opportunity to grow your character a bit more. This is a perfect opportunity for your character to day-dream, or recall a childhood memory.

7. Don't be too extreme - I mentioned this as well during character creation, but try to resist the temptation to make everything about your character extreme, because it actually devalues the events that occur during your writing. When every character is the one who was raped, or whose family was slaughtered, or who won the grand championship, or who is the best and the brightest, it lessens the impact of a true accomplishment or a truly traumatic event. Just like video games often have a series of mini-bosses before the "big boss," don't make every encounter or experience into a "big boss." Otherwise, when you actually get to the big boss, it will feel old and boring.

8. Spelling and grammar! - OK, so I'm getting repetitive, but this one remains important enough to repeat again and again. In play-by-post, people will flat-out get sick of reading your stuff if it's full of mistakes. A lot of people feel, "If he doesn't care enough about his writing to spell-check it, then why should I care?"

OK, that's about it for now. I hope someone gets some help out of these suggestions. I'm always willing to respond to questions or comments. And, if you want to ask more about stuff like this, or if you want help with a character or a post, you can always ask here in the Questions & Answers board. I and many others would love to help out!
« Last Edit: September 25, 2016, 08:09:27 PM by Davin Ragal »