Story Development - Characters
Last Edited 10.27.2011
- General Information
- Character Biography
- Character Motivation/Personality
Welcome to my tutorial on Character Development. Now, I hope I don't lose anyone, and I am sure most of the people reading this already design their own characters. For these people, I simply want to help them make sure that their characters are believable and realistic. For others, I attempt to explain how characters that are used in stories and games should be well thought out and designed. I try to demonstrate why a character should appear to be real, and ideas to help that become easier.
- Original Draft/Ideas Xanqui
- Original Draft/Ideas Xuroth
- Updated and ExpandedTo Angroth and Xanqui: I can't remember how much of this you guys/gals wrote, but I know I started by changing some spelling and grammatical errors, then adding a sentence or two before practically re-writing it and ending up with this. I didn't omit any details on purpose, but I wished to expand on certain details I find important. Please remember this is a rough first draft so it is not complete. Thanks for the start of this document. It may lead to another complete rewrite with better descriptions and more content later on... thanks again.
I don't remember exactly where, but I found the first part of this text a couple years ago and realized how incomplete it was. It still is, but after "losing" it for 2 years oh a hard drive, I feel I rounded it off nicely. This is a basic first draft, and is in no way complete. Each section deserves to be its own document and to be added to, but quite simply put, I just wanted to finish a basic draft so I may return to my stories... (and I hardly ever finish anything so I felt I needed to work on this some more). If you have any problems with this text just post and I will eventually update this.
Lets try to avoid cliches (no long, silver haired villains with a huge, long katana with a desire to destroy the world). I know, Sephiroth can be considered as one of the best villains in RPGs by some (and not quite the best by others). However, certain instances arise when cliches can not be avoided. These times will require quick thinking and imagination. But this is just advice after all.
The truth is... Cliches aren't all bad.
Quote from: WikipediaA cliches is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.
Essentially, a cliche is when something large and noticeable is used again and again and again and aga- well you get the point. You can improve (i.e. improve upon the original idea) or change a cliche by understanding a couple of things about cliches. For example, most players take gravity for granted in a game. It's not considered cliche, but is more widely used than the "damsel in distress" story template. Granted, some games could be all about a world which only produces anti-gravity. And that would be a lot of science/magic to explain to the character, and would be very...err...creative...A short anecdote about cliches:
Quote from: The.DarrenA friend once gave me advice on Story Development and the use of cliches as a tool. He would create the skeletons (i.e. frameworks) for stories, worlds, and characters. He would use a cliche, but then change a critical part of it by asking 'What if?' or by trying to make the idea more related to those he already had. He was capable of thinking up entire planes of existence in mere seconds. In short, a cliche is acceptable. After all, cliches are cliche because they work. But for the sake of imagination and creative storytelling, don't over use them. Change them.
Now that your character is to be named according to racial and gender-based naming conventions, lets move on. We should examine... Age
. When the story starts, your character needs a basic age. Now, (not-exactly-cliche-like-the-whole-gravity-thing-but-still-close) younger people, unless through a special upbringing, tend to not think about their actions as much as they should. They tend to be more reckless than not, and they jump right into a fight without contemplating it at all. Foresight is typically as elusive to the young, as youth is to the elderly. HOWEVER
, this is not always the case. Thus, your characters' personalities should reflect some generalizations, but also include some exceptions. After all, it's not like a law of the universe that
#Awesome method naming
if player <= ~25
elsif player >=50
Some people can be mature for their age, while some 'Wise Sages' can't stop thinking of giving 'advice' to young voluptuous females. Everyone is different, so remember this when we get to Personalities.
Some people like to start with the name, some others prefer to develop the name as they go. Either way will work, although I think that defining a name in the beginning should help add an idea of your character. However, in the real world, some people live up to their name, while others do not. So try to add variety, as a little spontaneity helps make for a more realistic world.
Now, go ahead, and try to find a name. For this tutorial, I will develop a character named Fyren. (I got the name by looking at the word 'Forum' and changing letters. Once I had a decent combination, I changed the flow of the name to make it better suiting a character. I realize this is not the best name in RPG genre or at all really. It's just a simple Idea, that will become developed as we go.)
Let's make sure their name reflects their nationality/race/gender. We don't need an Orc named Sally-Sue John XXXXIII
, from the country of Turkey. None of it fits. Here, if your game is based off Earth settings, do some research on names and nationalities, and language structure. If your game is more fantasy set, remember there are certain commonly known races that have their own particular naming conventions. Orcs, for instance are very guttural and short in naming conventions, while Elves (moon elves/ high elves in general) use complex (sometimes unpronounceable) and sophisticated names. Now, this is your game, and your rules. You can choose to smash all the standards and do it however you wish. However, to make your "Believability Factor" go up, you should consider trying to keep to some basic knowledge. If lots of people know that chromatic dragons are more rash and tend to be more violent (though some may not know this, unfortunately), then it makes your game more realistic when metallic dragons are more calm and patient then their fiery (bad pun) cousins. However, this could be considered, 'cliche', as it appears in more than a couple games that have been around for a long while.
Now we have a name. Fyren... try just imagining a character named Fyren. What would he/she look like? Try to build a body in your mind. Fyren... brings to mind a male (just fit in what you need or want, if you can't just create a character). So, using an average size, average build, male body, we will develop this character. The name also brings to mind a person who is either of a sophisticated background, or some young impatient hooligan. Because sophisticated and intelligent people generally think things through, and because Fyren is a main character, I feel the plot may be better served by using a young impatient character, though we will avoid some cliches in this process. Now, I have a good picture of Fyren, but I have explained very little about him. Let me introduce him.Meet Fyren:
QuoteFyren is a very hard worker. He was found mysteriously and brought up on a farm for 24 years. While living a simple life, Fyren has always dreamed of grand adventures. He has problems (take note here, very important, and I will explain why in a little bit) making friends, so he used to play pretend all alone once his chores were done. While dedicated to getting everything done, he likes to try to find shortcuts instead, though this usually backfires, and ends in more work.
Do you see what I did by just looking at the word forum? I have a character that is not extremely young like some RPG's, and he has a problem meeting up with people. This is crucial. Now whether you are designing a game or writing a novel, Fyren must now choose his actions carefully when around people if he is ever to work together. Or maybe you can be creative and have him be just a loner. But all that is plot based and beyond the scope of this particular document. I merely want to create options for later.
Quite simply, the core of a character. What is s/he going to do? And more importantly, WHY
? This is what gives the character depth. It lays out the mindset of this vision. it helps the reader/player to identify/relate with the character. It transforms a semi interesting paragraph into a living breathing entity (in the reader/player's mind anyway).
Another tool that helps develop characters: Flaws. Yes, mistakes help define a character as a person. This creates memorable and exciting characters.
Every person in the real world has goals and ambitions. Some are based off the person's interests, some based off the setting/environment they grew/live in. People can create new goals by the success or failure of past attempts (this is also very important, creating characters that grow. More in next section). To put it simply, everyone wants to do something and there's almost always a reason why. I want to be a software engineer later in life. Science, math, and computers are strong influences on my mind. Thus i need to strengthen my skills in these areas. What do I do? I take classes and I also practice them. Why does the main character go chasing after the "damsel in distress"? Either it must be one hell of a booty call to make him risk his life, or he must love her.
BUT WHY? Why would our hero love this particular person? Is it past history? Similar interests? Hot body? (maybe not so much. But seriously, think: 8-bit Zelda... now she was HAWT). Maybe it's the fact they are friends like Mario and Princess Peach (though its kinda vague why Bowser kidnaps her all the time...) The point is, the character must have a reason to do what they do during the story. (this is incredibly important with villains too!)
The most common sources of motivation is setting, plot, and other characters. Setting is everyplace your character visits or has visited, while plot is the experiences s/he goes through. Fyren, as vague as he is, has no set plot at the moment (...yet...) So almost all motivation is derived from the setting and surrounding characters. Wait! I don't have a Setting! There are no other characters (yet)! It's ok. You can skip this part, just don't forget about it. In another post/document I will illustrate how setting affects characters, their thoughts and their actions. It's okay to come back and change a couple of details, just make sure that those details are reflected as you go back through the process (use your characters to foreshadow a bit).
Now, you may remember English classes from many years ago, and you might remember something called Static vs. Dynamic and Flat vs. Round character types. Here is my version of that lesson, greatly generalized to give you a basic idea of what I mean.
Growing Characters:: Show Flat:
I start here because any character starts flat. As you add details you give the character depth. Flat characters are best in really short stories and some movies, but usually not in longer texts or lead roles because they don't have a lot of characteristics. As you add more detail to them they become Round. Round:
Round characters have many characteristics explained to the reader/player, so they are better suited for major parts in the story. These characters are not typical in short stories due to the depth of their personalities. A story-writer should be careful with these types of characters to not belay all their details at once to the reader/player. Some foreshadowing perhaps. More on introductions in another article. Static:
Okay, static characters (in my honest opinion) suck. but some situations like short poems and brief texts call for a static character. I even use a couple in my stories as baddies met toward the beginnings. A character is static if they learn very little and change very little throughout the story, if they change/learn at all. Dynamic:
This is my favorite. Just like the real world, I believe characters should change. Now They may not have to become a new person every chapter, but its good to keep them learning and occasionally have a "growth spurt" where they kind of change their outlook. In RPGs this is symbolized by "leveling up". The gain from life experience has led to a small growth by the character. I think this is a great way to visualize your character growing. This also applies outside of just battle, too...
Quote from: Example 1So Fyren, during his adventures has been ambushed many times. Due to his experience and growth, he will be more aware of his surroundings to try to avoid another trap. He may not avoid the second or third, but every time makes him a little more aware. It will be harder to trick him.
Quote from: Example 2Lets say you and I have battles where we unleash magic spells at each other. If I always start with fire, you will learn that and strategize accordingly. But twists happen and I will anticipate your learning my basic strategy. Assuming you would use air to redirect or water to douse the flames, I will use lightning once to start. You wouldn't expect it. The point here is that your characters should grow, but not be able to predict everything (like Rock-Paper-Scissors). Life is unpredictable and it's exciting that way!
In conclusion, Dynamic Round characters are well thought out and realistic characters that are easy for people to identify with and even to some people, they may even become your character, if only temporarily. Flat and or static characters should be those that interact less with the events of the story. You could also use them to help demonstrate how different the main characters are. Well-designed and thought-out characters make a story great.
Typically, your characters may not be real people, but they should appear as such. They are the result of a process, fed by inspiration, developed by their world and time, and changed by the actions of others (as well as their own.) There is no mold, no cookie-cutter tool to create characters (unless, of course, your characters ARE cookies...) They should
be real. They may lack a physical body, but otherwise they are as deep and developed as you or I.
I found this file sitting around on one of my hard drives (again). By now this document is about 4 years old, so I felt I could finish my additions to it and upload it here. Hopefully somebody will find it useful. It took me about 2.5 hours to format it properly and another 2 hours to finish it (editing, revising, lots of typing, etc.) I hope you enjoyed it!