Friday, June 19, 2015

Setting Goals For Better Character Depth

When making a character it is important to have goals. Goals help you give your character motivation, because they give your character something to work towards. They also help to define areas your character is interested in. However, if you're not careful when making goals you can inadvertantly shoehorn your character into being very shallow and one dimensional. Today I want to talk about that, and how you can spread your goals out to help add depth instead of remove it from the character.

2 Short, 1 Long
At minimum I find having two short term goals and one long term goal is a great starting point for a character. The two short term goals give you something to work towads immediately. They are giant check boxes you can mark off and get a feeling of accomplishment for, and then make new goals. The long term goal gives you something to build the character towards. It gives you, and the GM when you share it, a direction that you want the character to go in. If your long term goal is to become the Emperor's personal executioner, you probably aren't going to be spending a lot of time making flower arrangements...or maybe you are. Either way, you know what you are working towards.

Overlap Can Prevent Depth
In a lot of ways our goals make us who we are, because our goals show who we want to be. Because of this, overlap in your character's goals can be dangerous. The more your character goals over lap, the more focused the character becomes on that one thing, and the more single natured and shallow they become. That doesn't mean that this is definitely true. You can have all goals focused on one thing and still have a deep character, but that is more of an exception than the rule. And even in most cases like that that I've seen, the character had other goals, they just weren't the ones written down.

Consider that every goal is actually smaller goals. If your character has a goal of becoming the best swordsman in the world, then it stands to reason they also wish to learn how to sword fight, and that they wish to win tournaments. Because of this, having another goal being to win a tournament can be superfluous unless there is something special about that tournament that makes it separate from the goal. For example, Haji may wish to be the best swordsman in the empire, which would mean becoming the Emerald Champion (which requires winning the Emerald Championship.) However, he might have as a separate goal that he wants to win the Emerald Championship because in doing so he would succeed where his father failed. The two goals are tied to the same event, but the reason for them is different and so we still get more information about the character.

The Further Apart, The Better
Contrast is a wonderful way to make a character stand out. Giant brutes are a dime a dozen, but the giant brute who has a collection of fine porcelain and drinks tea like a gentleman stands out from the pack. The reason for this is because it is unexpected, and you can use this with your goals as well. Having small goals that are unrelated to the bigger picture of the character at all can be a great way to show and add depth. Maybe Haji doesn't want to just be Emerald Champion, but he also wants to be good enough to sing in the Emperor's court. Maybe the girl seeking out being the Emperor's personal executioner also wants to be able to make the finest origami animals ever seen.

By having goals unrelated to the main gist of the character you make them stand out. You're adding the "who does," the "but also," and the "and," to the character description that starts with the most generic terms of the character.

Ikoma Sendou is a Lion Courtier but he also studies tactics and has a military sand table in his home.

Doji Mariko is a Crane Duelist and wants to kill her father for the death of her brother.

Hida Kobune is a Crab Wrestler and maker of fine tea.

Ser Lora Robinson is a Paladin of the Sun and runs a gang of street thugs used to punish priests who break their vows.

These extra details add life to the character, and we know to focus on them when we tie them to goals. So don't be afraid to spread out those goals. You may end up with someone you really like.

1 comment:

  1. I'm creating a SW: Force & Destiny character right now and this is good food-for-thought. I have two connected long-term goals for him...but I like the idea of having two completely unconnected short-term goals.

    I think there's a tendency to feel like creativity should be unrestricted, but some kind of process to channel the creativity can really help.