Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fleshing Out Your Characters

We talked the other day about ways to, with mechanics, flesh out your characters for a table top game. Today, I want to talk about the other side, the more important side of fleshing out your character. Making them an actual person through the play, the depiction of the character. Whether this is for an NPC, a Role Playing Game, or a story these things are good things to give to characters to help make them more real. Help you think about them as a bit more real.

Give Them a Quirk
Quirks are, in a lot of ways what make people people. It's not the entire thing for a person, but it is something that will set a person apart from another. Quirks can be anything really, a rough sense of humor, a preference for marlboro cigarettes, a specific way that they go to bed. Almost anything can be there to qualify as a quirk. Just think about it a bit, give it to the character, and bring it up a few times here and there to re-cement it as a part of the character. It is a small touch, but just like with a mystery it is the little things that make the whole thing come to light.

The Favored Piece of Equipment
Think back to some of your favorite movie characters, a lot of the time they have their favorite piece of equipment. Often it isn't even the most effective piece of gear they have. Indiana Jones loves his hat, it is an iconic part of him, as is the bull whip. If you ask people about Indiana Jones a lot of the time they mention the fedora or the bullwhip, not the pistol (unless they're mentioning that fight scene from Raiders of the Lost Arc). So why not do the same thing with your character? Give it a favored shirt, hat, knife, something small that means something important to the character. A treasure from a previous adventure, or a gift from someone long ago. Bring it up, talk about it through the character, risk your life to reclaim it at some point (like we see Jones doing in Raiders when he reaches back for the hat last second). Done right, this item can become character defining all on its own, telling the story of the character with a detailed look at it. Done wrong, well, you still have something your character cares about, so you aren't losing anything.

Side Skills and Interests
This blends with the mechanical one, but give your character some side skills and talents. What does your character do to relax after a long day? What do they do for fun? Did mother make them take piano lessons and they've just managed to keep up with it? Giving your character these side interests, even if not mechanically represented for games, helps give them life. We get to see them, and who they are, when all alone and not needing to do anything. A character who goes home, curls up on the couch, and reads a book at night can be vastly different from one who goes home and plays Madden until dawn. If you think about it, normal "session" stuff for a character is kind of like who they are on the job. The side skills and interests are who they are when not on the job. Know them, mention them, and the character will come a bit more to life than the 2D cut out they may be with just the "at work" stuff known.

"Strange" Preferences

This one kind of falls under favored equipment, but it is also different in a lot of ways too. When I say favorite equipment I am generally talking about an item on your equipment list, or in the character's possession that isn't particularly mechanically beneficial. Like Dr. Jones and his hat. For this one though, we're talking about those strange little preferences that may not be mechanically important but still define your character. Someone who prefers revolvers (or pistols) to the other, maybe with reason or not, would be a good example of what I'm talking about. Another example would be a character who, despite having access to beam weaponry (including swords) preferred the aspect (physical material) versions of them. It is, once again, a small detail, but it is a small detail that can tell a lot about your character.

Final Notes
The point about this, if it isn't clear, is that it is the little details that make a character come to life. The broad sweeping strokes are necessary, but the role they play doesn't make them a person. It is the details of life around them that make them that. A liking for a favored hat, a dislike of guns, even a slight lisp when they speak, all of these take your character and make them just a little bit more real. Whether you are writing a story, or making a character for something else, these all can come in handy and should be considered.

Happy Gaming

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