Monday, June 4, 2012

Making Characters

Today I am going to try to address a topic that is a bit more neutral when it comes to gaming advice. This is also going to have advice in it for any kind of story telling because, as the topic says, today I want to talk about making Characters (yes, capital C.) This post has been on my head a lot lately because I've been struggling with what to do with my PC in one of the games I am in. Also, a friend of mine - an animator in a young company in the game industry - has been talking to me a lot about this stuff lately for some planning meetings he is involved in. So, without further ado, let's talk about some things that you want your character to have.

Want Something
If the character is in any way going to be a big part of the story (a PC, a prominent NPC, the protagonist, or one of the key antagonists) then you want to make them want something. That want is in bold for a reason, and that reason is because this want, this need, is going to be a driving force for the character. This is their reason for getting out of bed in the morning. It is the reason why they go out and do things. It gives them a goal to work towards. Essentially, it keeps the character in motion, and this is something that you want. Why? Because if a character is not in motion, then they can become stale. They get bored, you get frustrated, and people begin to wonder why they should care about what is going on. Give them something to want though, and they're up and running before we even know what is going on. That can be an intoxicating experience.

I Mean It; WANT Something
Yes, yes, this is just a reiteration of the point above, but it needs to get through your head. I mean everyone wants things, right? I want a raise, or more time for videogames, or to know how to draw. However, I don't want them. I don't burn with the desire for these things. I wouldn't kill a man just to have it. The want a good character has, especially in a self motivated game or story, is very important. Who would Batman be if not for his drive for vengeance and justice? His burning need that no other kid ever have to suffer what he went through because of a criminal on the street. Compare this to Superman; who while he wants to help people doesn't necessarily burn with it as much. One of these is generally considered the more interesting character, and it rarely is the boy in the blue and red tights.

For other, more contemporary - and less comic bookie - characters we can go through a lot. Richard Castle wants to be with Beckett, and he wants to get a good story. All his childish antics pale in comparison to what he is willing to do to be by Becket's side. Malcom Reynolds wants to be free and to chart his own course. His entire life is dedicated to that, and woe to the people who try to get in the way. Characters in Horror movies really want to survive. Danny Ocean (in the Clooney remake) wants revenge on the guy who has his ex-wife as a girl friend. At the core of every story you've ever heard there is the feeling of want. The character, or a character at least, hungers for something.

Act Don't React
In other words: be proactive. Characters who always wait for things to come to them don't go very far. You have to be willing to go out and get things done. If the GM isn't actively running a plot with grand sweeping events, you know who is going to have the most control over what happens in the game? The player who goes out there with the goal to get stuff done. Hell, in one of the games I'm in the GM has basically said one of the players is running half the game for her because the PC in question is always acting and making the world react to him. I, on the other hand, have a character who lacks that burning want (it can be hard!) and so I tend to be more reactionary. Guess who gets more done in a session? (hint: it's not me!)

Redeeming Qualities
You can make a character a huge asshole. Hell, people don't even have to like your character. However, you want to give them some redeeming qualities. No one is evil through and through. Very few people are just complete jackasses. Redeeming qualities help us stick with a protagonist, and can even make us root for the bad guy in some situations.

Have Flaws
At the same time, nobody is perfect and you should remember this too. Even the best of us have flaws. Things we do. Things we take to a fault. Good flaws, as much as redeeming qualities, bring a character to life and make them more human feeling. A character without flaws is boring (a problem Superman has had from time to time).

Keep in mind though that when I say flaws I mean meaningful flaws. It doesn't matter if your character is clumsy or accident prone if it never comes up at any time of relevance. It doesn't matter if they're forgetful if they never forget the important stuff. This is where some people hide their Mary Sue characters, with superficial flaws that don't do much of anything. On the other hand, you don't need to look much further for character's with real flaws than any of Chuck Wendig's main characters in his books (Coburn, Atlanta Burns, Miriam Black, etc) all are rifed with real flaws, in some cases to the point that they're not really likeable on a personal level, but they also ahve good points. The mix between those good points and bad points makes drama, and that is awesome to behold.

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