Character Creation Hints & Tips
So we don't have a particularly formal approval process. Most of this is just for the hell of it. But we're all RPers and writers here, and awesome engaging writing with awesome engaging characters is the true driving force behind a community.
That's right. Not the plot. Not the shinies we give out.You.
That's kind of a big responsibility, so Gift and Tua are making this little list to help you out. It is by no means comprehensive, or the Infallible Guide to Good Writing. It's just stuff to think about that we have found helpful in the past, and want to pass on to others.COMPLEXITYAKA 'even Darth Vader has hobbies'
A thorough personality section is important, especially for Candidates. We match dragons to riders based on these profiles. If all you have is a two-sentence blurb that says "he likes his friends and wants to be a dragonrider" that tells us... absolutely nada. There's no need to pad excessively, but detail is your friend! Bear in mind though, that we're talking about complexity, not length. It's totally possible to have a 10-paragraph personality section that simply repeats synonyms over and over, and can be effectively summarized in... one sentence. (Trust us. We've seen it before.)CHARACTER REACTIONSAKA 'godmodding other people's characters is bad even if it's not in an RP post'
If you find that you've run out of things to say, think about your character as a complete person. What do they do on their rest days, for fun? Do they have family? What do they think about said family? What are their bad habits? (Everyone has bad habits. Don't lie.) What are their hopes for the future and regrets about the past? Do they have an embarrassing secret, like the footie pajamas in their closet? No one is 100% in control and confident all the time, or 100% nice, or really 100% anything.
When people hear "godmodding" or "metagaming," they usually think of in-character interaction. But it applies equally well outside of interaction. In a profile, it is considered good form not to assume how other people are going to react to your character. In particular, if your profile contains the words "stuns men with her beauty," "people instinctively flock to her," or any variant of that kind of phrase, we will laugh. And then smack you. And then laugh again.COHESIVENESSAKA 'how to strike a balance between 2D and all over the place'
It all comes down to the most basic of writing guidelines: show, don't tell.
Granted, in a profile, a certain amount of telling is inevitable. It's a profile, not a scene. You are telling us what your character is like. But there is a difference between, for instance, saying that your character is popular with his peers (not up to you to decide) versus saying that he's a smooth operator with a good sense of humor and a charming smile (better! this tells us WHY he would be well-liked!) Whenever possible, lean more towards the latter than the former.
Okay, this is going to sound contradictory to the above, but... there is such a thing as too much personality. And I'm not talking about "larger than life," I'm talking about they have every characteristic under the sun. We all get overenthusiastic sometimes and want to make a character who works well in every possible situation... But that just doesn't really work in RP or in real life.TRAGEDYAKA 'how much bawww is too much bawww?'
Let's take a look at two hypothetical characters, Jane and Martha, for a quick rundown of what I mean.
"Jane" is an apprentice Weaver, a Holdborn girl who loves her work but came to the Weyr in hopes of something more exciting in her life. She is naturally easygoing and soft-spoken, and tends to be easily intimidated by dragonriders and offworlders, who represent something entirely outside her experience. With her fellow apprentices, she is a social butterfly, trying earnestly to be friends with everyone - though she doesn't always succeed! Whenever possible, she takes the Harper approach to conflicts, mediating and compromising, although sometimes she gives ground too much when she ought to dig her heels in, out of desire to please. There is one situation in which she will defend herself verbally, and that is if someone is harassing her or being deliberately confrontational when she's with friends whom she knows will defend her. Jane alone is meek and easily steamrollered by a stronger personality, but Jane with backup is loud and unafraid of expressing her opinions. Strength in numbers! When she's not busy with Candidate chores, Jane is an expert at sewing, and enjoys making small gifts for people. She also collects a small piece of eggshell from every Hatching she's attended, as good luck charms.
Martha is a strong-willed and boisterous girl. She only respects authority if they earn her respect first, and no matter who she's talking to she is bluntly honest and calls things exactly like she sees them. She also has a way with words, something she learned from her Lord Holder father, so everything is always worded carefully and politely. The only people who are offended by her observations are the people who don't want to see the truth about themselves. She is quiet and demure, a perfect Lord Holder's daughter, but she resented her position and ran off to the Weyr because she dreams of Impressing a queen. Martha is ruthlessly ambitious and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. But she secretly has a heart of gold, and she selflessly offers her time, money, and marks to anyone who is truly in needs. Her generosity and fairness along with her honesty make her a natural leader, and people are drawn to her magnetic personality.
Okay, so most of you can probably see how one of these characters is a failsue. But what, exactly, is the problematic characteristic? Well, there's a couple (including some violations of the godmodding rule) but look at their respective traits. Notice how Jane's traits work together logically and build off one another. Martha, on the other hand, is everything to everyone. Yes, everyone is loud sometimes and quiet sometimes and happy sometimes and sad sometimes. That is what makes us people. But you can't be simultaneously perfectly polite and bluntly honest both all the time. You can't be both ruthlessly ambitious and selflessly fair. There is no single character trait that makes any particular character falter - so don't worry about making a character who is beautiful, or strong-willed, or even one who dreams of Impressing a particular color! What you have to look at is the whole. Do they make sense all together? Is this a character who has a cohesive 'self', or are they just a list of traits thrown together because they seem like good ones for a character to have?
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Leo Tolstoy said that. We're not going to argue with Tolstoy. Conflict is the ingredient that makes RP compelling; a story about someone who never has anything bad happen to them ever is not a story with any particular suspense or character development to it. But to use an analogy, tragedy should be a flavoring, not the main course. Much like salt, a sparing dash makes everything tasty but a whole cupful will wreck your entire dish.BALANCEAKA 'there are other flaws besides stubborn and fiery temper'
We encourage avoidance of unnecessarily tragic pasts. People do die on Pern, yes. But remember that orphans tend to be fostered quickly, runaways and Holdless are extremely rare, and... well, rape/abuse for the sake of character tragedy are just kind of overused.
Here is a simple rule of thumb: look at your character. Now, just for a moment, take away any reference to tragic events in your character's history. Have they changed as a person? Probably, yes. Have you essentially taken out their entire personality? If the answer is still yes, you have a problem. A character should not be defined solely by abuse or trauma. It can be a significant impact on their life, yes, and it can drastically change them. But the whole of their existence should not boil down to a single event.
OOC drama is bad. IC drama, however, is AWESOME. Don't be scared to make a character who you think other characters will dislike! Conflict is good! However, this can go too far in the opposite direction as well. A character who can do no wrong and invariably gets along with everyone is dull, but so is a character who doesn't get along with anyone and sits around drowning in self-pity all day.
Really, it all comes down to making balanced characters who are neither perfect nor complete failures as human beings. We hesitate to default to the old "strengths and weaknesses" trope, since well-rounded characters are more than a randomly picked list of pros and cons. But it helps to make sure they have a few bad traits in the mix. "Strong-willed" isn't a flaw. "Too loyal" or "too kind" or "too beautiful" aren't flaws. "Endearingly clumsy except when she is inexplicably graceful" is not a flaw (and I am LOOKING at you, Mrs. Meyer). Here is a list of some potentially useful, realistic traits that can spice up an otherwise saccharine character. No need to go overboard, but a little sprinkling of bad in with the good can be great:
- No impulse control/no restraint
- Bad/no sense of humor
- Too concerned with other people's opinions
- Socially awkward
- Low self-esteem/plagued by self-doubt
- Habitual liar
- Victim complex
- Addicted to something (from booze to fellis to adrenaline to gambling)
- Cannot keep a secret
Keep in mind that there are certain tropes and flaws that are often overused for characters - the brilliant but manipulative bitch, the fiery strong-willed rebel with a heart of gold, the tragic loner needing to be healed by the power of ~love~... Try to mix it up a little.