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In-Depth Character Creation Guide

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This is my first post, just going to throw it out there. I've been reading a lot of articles and came across a few posts about character creation and thought I'd come up with a rough draft of what a character should have.

I've been writing for a while and I often do round-robins with a few friends and one of the most common things I see with new writers or people who are trying to break into writing is stale characters. It's happened in movies and it has happened in video games. We can spend a lot of time naming titles, but the main point is that the story falls short because the main characters, or in some cases the entire case, have either yet to capture our interests or lost it somewhere along the way.

I don't want this to be a "This is my guide" type of post. If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment and see what needs tweeking or adding.

The backstory plays two main roles for you character. The first is that it's what makes your chracter what them unique. A character's backstory is one of the most important, if not the most inportant if they are a minor character, aspects of building you character. The backstory is what shapes and molds your character into the person they are when the game begins. Think about a past event in your life that had a lasting impact on you that changed the way you thought or the way you acted. These are the types of things that need to be in a character's backstory.

Were they once a bad apple but got turned around by a mentor who saw potential? Was there a sudden or tragic death that forced them to take up duties they didn't want to? Remember, even if your character had the most bland life, he must still react to his surroundings and portray himself as if his life had been bland.

The second role is that it gives you wiggle room to flesh out your character in the game. If there was some tramatic event that hadn't been resolved in their backstory (let's say that our chracter is aquaphobic), we have a chance to explore how our chracter will react to the unresolved conflict and let the player decide if the conflict gets resolved or remains unresolved.

Remember that the character's backstory is what makes them what they are. They are the cumulations of their past events.

This doesn't not only mean what they look phsyically, but what phsyical features stand out immediately. If they are part of the main cast, give them something that someone on the street could immediately point out. You can take the obvious approach and go for the outragous, which is not bad, but it had to reflect upon your character in some way. Did they get that scar from a fight with their older brother who was tough but loved them or from a mugger that they finally stood up to?

What your character wears, what kind of distinguishing features they have, are all relfections of who they are at their core. Of course don't go overboard either. Not every single peice of clothing is going to have a sigificant meaning. Their pants just might well be what they found on their floor, but the fact that they are ripped may indicate that your character's a slacker and not willing to drive out and buy a new pair.

This is the big one and the one people like to focus on most. This will be the meat and potatos of your character, what makes them unique and sets them apart from everyone else. It's becomes a lot easier to think of a character's personality once you have a solid background to base it on. Most people look at the big picture and onverlook the subtle details that will make your character more fleshed out.

The easist approach to finding out what a character is like is to do a mental interveiw with them (or a pertend one if it works). Think of yourself as a psychologist and your character has just walked in with a problem. What is it? How do they react to it? Trying to ask everything from "What's your favorite color" to "Have you ever had any traumatic experiences?". Also remember that if you do use this method, you are playing the role of a character within the story. Does your character have a tendency to lie when put under pressure? Do just jot down the answers to the questions, but also about how they react. All of this is what creates a fully formed personality.

Another approach is to think if your character was old and writing a relfect about their life. What would they include? What would the Exclude? What would the emphasize?

Your character's story arc is the exact opposite of their backstory. This is where you plot out your character's future events and how to unfold them. This should be at least, if not the most exciting story, compelling. That doesn't mean that your character fights, or even comes out on top in the end, or even comes out the good guy.

Having a compelling arc for your character means that your character will undergo some growth, good or bad, and this growth should draw the audience in. TheStar Wars KOTOR series is a great example of having a good arc for your character. You could choose to be either good or evil, but either way the choices you made were compelling and made you want to play more and more to unraval the mystery behind your mysterious past.

This doesn't just mean romantic relationships. What relationship does your character have with their best friend? Their parents? What about them actually trying to get into a relationship with another character. Did they have a bad experience with their first love that had callused them? How do they deal with forming new relationships?

Try creating a link to everyone in the main party, even if it's something as simple as two people met and one of them needs something from the other that the other is not willing to give until they complete a task.

Also remember that relationships do not have to be forever. Do not be afriad to have a temporary party member that goes off and dies from the main villan.

Other Stuff
Don't just write down everything that is important about your character. Are they left-handed or right-handed? Do they drink coffee or tea? What's their favorite book/ movie? Remember that even the unimportant things will have some effect on your character's personailty.

Remember that this is not a "this is my guide" post, if you can think of anything, anything at all I could put in or tweak, please comment. Thank you for reading.

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Good advice, I always seem to have troubles with arcs. And when I find myself stonewalled I'll read some mythology, usually gets my head in the Arc game. :P

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I guess this one can be added into more of Back Story, but I wanted to point out:

I personally think adding in a well thought-out name, or their nickname, with the reason why that specific name was given to the character is pretty significant in creating a compelling character.
In many stories, it contains character either fulfilling their destiny or trying to resist their destiny. May be the name contains that destiny that the character must fulfill/resist. Or the name could imply the basic personality; one example I can give would be The Invisible Man in Mass Effect series. Right upon seeing that name, you get a preemptive notion that this guy is kind of mysterious guy, who likes to manipulate things unseen.
You can also give a character some sort of sarcastic name, like giving a really big and muscular character a feminine name or something as some sort of comic relief.

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With some exceptions, I would strongly advice against spending too much time on the backstory of the characters. Some general pre-face is definitely nice, but fleshing it out too much and you'll risk rigidifying the character's growth potential. One of the major parts of character creation (as I see it) is the players freedom to shape his own backstory for his character (and you don't need an interface for that, it's done inside their heads).

Personally, I think promoting the player's own imagination is one of the great lost arts of game design. Absolutely everything is being spoon-fed the player, nowadays, as if the player is too stupid to think for himself. It's definitely a balance, but one that IMO is a bit too much on the spoon-feeding side, at the moment.

This is the main reason why you always start as a prisoner in the Elder Scrolls series. It's not developer laziness, it's Bethesda's intention to have the player deside his or her own past and imagine how and why the character was taken. Maybe guilty, maybe innocent. Maybe betrayed by their friends or whatever.

But it all depends on the story as a whole. Hence my first three words. Edited by DrMadolite

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