Tag Archive: characters

C – Characters

Toothless Letter CWhat is a book without characters? You can have a fantastic setting, a great story arc, but without believable characters, there is nothing to wrap the story around, and it will fall flat on it’s butt.

So what makes a character? Believability mostly. Characters can be hated, they can be jerks, they can be kind, or lovable, that doesn’t matter, what they do have to be, is realistic.

So what makes a character realistic? That’s a tad harder. It’s all about making them a rounded character. yes, they’ll have a backstory, physical appearance and all those other facts, but they need more than that. They need motivations. Why do they do the things that they do. For instance, you have a thief. If all you do is have him steal things, then that’s a one dimensional, so look at why he steals. Does he have a starving family he needs to feed (cliche, but it is a reason)? does he need the money to take a boat and escape to a new country? Is he in over his head with the wrong people? Does he like stealing for the money, and sleep on a bed of gold like a dragon? As soon as you give him a reason for stealing, he becomes a little more like a person.

Hopes, dreams and goals are good for this as well. Is his goal to leave the country, a fresh start somewhere new? Does he want to win the heart of another, and needs to steal to get money to show them a good time? Is his dream to fill a room full of gold and sleep inside it? Smaug did, that was his goal, so he went and killed a mountain full of dwarves to do it. Everyone has something they are working for, especially characters in a story. There is much of a story without a goal at the end, but is the goal for the story the same as the character’s goal?

Character Cast Wallpaper

Characters will have skills, like, dislikes, things they are good at, things they are bad at, experiences, and different world views. Not everyone is perfect, and we certainly aren’t the same.

Talking about perfect characters, the one thing that you do not want to have is a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu). A Mary Sue is an idealised character that is good at every, bad at nothing, and everything is perfect for them.

You know what perfect is? Boring.

There’s a wonderful test here that I use for my character to test their Mary Sue-ness. Not because I’m in the habit of making them, but it also helps you identify any cliches or tropes that you might be hitting. Quite a few of my character hit one or two, and that’s okay. It’s when you start hitting half or more than you really have a problem.

But back to real characters. As an author, you develop your characters, and you will know everything about them. You will know where they are born, what they look like, where they grew up, their hopes and dreams, likes, dislikes, childhood, key events, experiences, and all the rest of it. However, the reader doesn’t, and probably won’t get all the information. And that’s good. You as the author need to know all this stuff to make your character a rounded person, the reader only needs to know what is pertinent to the plot.

Example. In the novel I’m currently editing, Mechanica Awakening, the main character, Rose, her favourite breakfast is Eggs Benedict. But that never gets mentioned. Why? Because it’s not important. The reader needs to hear the conversation that happens at breakfast, not about what she has for breakfast that day. I know, because it helps me nail down her character, the reader, they don’t need to know because it adds nothing to the story.

character-bio-sheets-poewar-23150364Something that does help, especially with consistency (shifting eye colour mid way through the story is never a good idea unless they actually have due to weird sci fi experiments or magical accidents) is to have a character bible. It’s basically where you write down everything about the character, from physical descriptions to motivations, key events, and personality. As a pantser, I don’t write this before I start. I have it open at the same time. Whenever I introduce a new character, I get a blank page, put their name at the top, and then write down what I know about them. This way, as I pants through the story and new things develop, I add to the page for that character as I discover things, and then I can go back during edits and add bits in earlier if I need to, make sure everything is consistent, and grow the character that way.

Of course, getting this characterisation across to readers is also tricky. It’s the whole show, don’t tell thing again, which is pretty much a golden rule of writing if golden rules of writing actually existing. you bring the characteristics of your character to life through dialogue, actions and thoughts.  You don’t tell people ‘this person is a wallflower’ and ‘this one is a social butterfly’, as a writer you show the wallflower standing at the edge of the room, crossed arms, saying very little and looking at her feet. The social butterfly is talking at a hundred miles an hour, flitting around the centre of the room, hugging everyone.  Much more engaging for the reader.

And there you have C, my very short guide to characters. There are a huge amount of resources out there about characters and character development, as it is one of the most important things a book has, so do take a look and see what you can find. And remember to practice. There is no substitute for practice and hard work.

Hope you’re having as much fun with the A to Z as I am!

Character Generation

Dark Met is finally here!

And by here I mean that last night we had a stating session. But not your average stating sessions, Oh no, we didn’t even touch numbers and mechanics. That for the second session. This session was all about play styles and setting.

So, we opened with a quiz. I love quizzes, it’s part of being a nerd, but it was a multiple choice questionnaire, and at the end you tot up the number of As, Bs, Cs and Ds, and then see what dominant play style you have.

I came out with 4 Ds, 3As, 2Cs and 0Bs. This means I had 4 Actor points, 3 Socialite points, 2 Fixer points and 0 Cultivator points.

What are these four play styles? I’m glad you asked:

  • Socialite – a player who enjoys being part of a team, talking to other people/characters/needs attention from their gaming.
  • Cultivator – focuses on mechanical development, enjoys using mechanics and solving challenges with rules
  • Fixer – Someone who enjoys the setting and lore of the story the most, like finding challenges and solving problems and puzzles
  • Actor – enjoys the story of a character, character driven role-play is important

Now, this is a very simplified version of all of this. The quiz they gave us was based on Eddy Webb’s game theory. If you are interested in more about this, see his presentation here on youtube. It is fascinating.

He also has a 2014 updated version called Your Game Still Sucks. Here’s the mp3 and here’s the slides.

My play style is Actor with Socialite elements. Personally, I found that I have a lot of the good points of an Actor (character development and story) and a lot of the negative points (potentially) of a Socialite (I like standing out and having attention). There is no right or wrong play style, all of the play styles are equally valid, and all of them have good points and bad points. The purpose of the exercise was to see what our play style was and to think about what we want to get out of games and how we play the games. And you can be more than one (as a lot of people were). Many people were surprised at my lack of interest in cultivating. I like numbers, and I like statting, but it’s not how I play. It just happens at the start of games. To me it’s part of building a character, leading into my actor style.

So once we had our play style, we talked in small group and compared play styles and found some of the bits in games we had played in that we liked. I had some stuff about personal character arcs and learning special things, and also the time where someone tried to dick me over, so I got most of the player base and we had a big fight in the game and overthrew the prince. It was awesome. Also banishing that demon. That was awesome, I got to rock out, and had an arm bitten off. In character, not in real life.

The aim of this was to work out what we like and want from a game. Why do we play, and what do we enjoy the most. From here, we actually started thinking about characters.

They told us to turn up with three character concepts, which I did. Start with a one sentence idea. My three were Shy Artefact Scholar, Tough as nails Storyteller and Blind Architect.

Then, figure out what you would do in uptime. Aka, when the game is going on. Here’s where I hit a little stumbling block. The blind architect didn’t have anything to do in uptime. I tried to think of stuff to do, within my actor and socialite play styles, and I found that the novelty of the character would get old quickly. Beyond the initial “oh, she’s blind” there really was nothing there, so the character got scrapped. The other two, happily, had things to do in both uptime and downtime. My scholar gets to go after plot (I do occasionally like the fixer stuff) and I can develop her out of her shyness slowly, and my storyteller gets to be social and develop by bouncing off other people and being very reactive and the start point for other people.

Then, right at the end, is the question: What clan and Covenant do you think they might play. And the refs were encouraging us to not fix this down, but to have options. This is in Blood and Smoke / Vampire the Requiem so we have the new WoD clans and covenants. My scholar is definitely a Mekhet, starting unaligned to go into any covenant, although maybe Ordo Dracul over any others. My storyteller is Gangrel (maybe Ventrue?) and could either be Invictus, Crone or Lance, leaning towards Lance.

We then talked to other people, each of whom had at least one concept with options and we talked about all the concepts and there was lots of talking and speculating because we have favourites but no concretes because the refs need a level of balance between all the clans an covenents so we might have to change bits and pieces.

But anyway, the upshot of this all is that I am hyped, I have found out a couple of new things about myself as a gamer, a new way of approaching character building (which also helps with writing things), and I am ready to have fun. Now I just need to see if I can come up with a reasonable third character concept. I’m probably not going to want to play it as much as my first two, but it’s good to have options.


Emotional rollercoaster

Death is harder on those who are left behind     – Robert La Fosse, Nothing to Hide

My changeling character is a lively, enthusiastic, bubbly, life and soul of the party kind of girl. There’s an innocence and sweetness about her which never fails to bring a smile to other people, and at the national a couple of weekend ago, I got complimented about the way that I roleplayed her, and had people telling me how much they enjoyed it.

We had our local game yesterday though, and for once I didn’t get to play her as I usually do. Not even as the slightly confused person she can sometimes be, or slightly sad when she learns an unpleasant truth. No, yesterday we learnt that my character’s husband, and another prominent member of the summer court, were dead. They died taking down a True Fae, killing him so that our freehold and Suffolk’s could live in peace and the war could end.

So as soon as the one member of the summer court who was well enough to turn up to the gathering delivered the news, my character immediately shuts down, picks up for a frantic half hour of, “No he can’t be dead, he can’t be.” Sees his grave, and then immediately goes into a fugue state where nothing really gets through to her.

(I’ll make it extra clear at this point that this is all in character in the game that we play, and no actually people have been hurt, just their character and some imaginary NPCs)

P8096886And you know what? It was so hard to play her as a depressed person. And it was completely out of the blue (well, not completely, out of character I knew that they had gone to fight him, but not that they had died doing it), so I just had to make it up as I go along and it was actually one of the hardest thing that I have ever had to roleplay, just sitting there and staring into space and not reacting to anything. I did decide to wander off, back to his grave about halfway through the game, hoping other characters would chase me. They did in the end, but not immediately like I thought they would, as they kind of went “We’ll just give her some space.”.

It’s great, because my character has been after her independence for ages now, trying to prove that she can make her own decisions, and she can be a grown up and look after herself, but then this happens, and she basically shuts down so that she CAN’T look after herself, but people are still trying to let her, not realising that all the will and effort has gone out of her because she still doesn’t believe that he’s really really dead.

And after the game ended, I started crying, because playing a grief stricken person is hard, and all the emotion I had just welled up in me and I started sobbing whilst still going around and hugging people and it was just so emotional the whole game, and I don’t think I’m over it this morning.

I love story telling, whether it’s in a novel, or in a role playing game, but that doesn’t mean that it is always easy! The one thing it is though? It is always rewarding. And the grief is hardly going to be contained in this one game. To a future filled with more drama and roleplay!

National Characters

Last weekend was a pretty good weekend. There was a national, and by national I mean people from all over the UK gathered in one place and we did a lot of roleplaying. There was also drinking and hanging out, but mainly it was for the roleplaying.

I had a pretty good time. I have a definite favourite game that I played it (it was the first changeling game, with the mirror plots. I named all the NPCs and drove people insane, it was great!) but the others were good, if not fantastic. All in all, I had a solid weekend of gaming.

However, since the weekend finished there has been a topic on my mind more than others. In under a year, the whole system, all of the games, all of the domains, is resetting. Chronicles ends, we put our old characters and stories to bed, and then start up a new chronicle with new characters and new roleplaying to happen. So, I think you can see why, I am currently concentrating on hashing out some new character to play.

pen-and-paperI just have this tinsey little problem. I like statting characters. I love just sitting down and thinking up idea after idea and putting numbers, costume ideas, backstory and all the other things to them. I love playing around with stats and mechanics and variations, and this is before we even know exactly what the setting is going to be in the new chronicles! The people who are working on it could turn around and go ‘so it’s like this now’ which will entirely ruin a character idea and I’ll have to come up with a new one, and there will probably be some mechanical changes of how things work, or they’ll change how much xp we get or something that means that all this effort I’m putting in now will have to be re-written. Even knowing that, I’m still statting all of them. And coming up with backstory. And costume, and all the other bits and pieces that go with creating a character. I have a OneNote section filled with pages of notes, and seven excel spreadsheets of numbers for the various ideas! I just can’t stop myself!

Does anyone else ever have this problem? Writers for example- can you slow down your brain so that things come at a manageable pace and you don’t waste any effort? I know I don’t/can’t/won’t whichever one is more appropriate at the time.

So even though I know it’s probably going to be wasted effort, I’m statting all my current concepts. I have been neglecting the writing for a little while, and I probably should get back to that (especially since the beta of a web service I’ve been looking forward to just got released) but I seem to be on a big roleplaying high and I do like harnessing enthusiasm when it’s around.



Yesterday evening, as I was relaxing after a long day of running around a field killing people with fake LARP swords and then stuffing myself full of sushi, the most delicious of meals, I found myself thinking about a discussion that I have many times had with myself and other people:

When making a character, should you focus on their characterisation or their stats?

I think I was thinking about it again because I had just been at Frontier LARP, which is a combat LARP and the difference between combat LARP and non-combat LARP was very striking at that moment. In combat LARPs, like Frontier, the thing that matter to you is your stats: How many hits do I have, what’s my damage call, do I have any magical spells or abilities to help me out in this situation? You are constantly and always using the stats on your character, and most of the time that is how you are defined. I was playing my archer yesterday, and rather than asking my name, I was simply referred to as ‘The Archer’ because there was only one person with a bow, me. I heard someone saying “I need more characterisation on <character they intended to play>” and I did find myself thinking ‘Why?’ I don’t come to Frontier for the roleplay, I come for the hitting and the running around and fun, if there is any roleplay I make up what my character would think on the spot, and then add it into her character from there. For instance, some of the monsters in one encounter surrendered. One character asked if they had any healing, and when they didn’t, we killed them anyway. I decided that my character was okay with this, since she’s a survivalist, whereas another character, who upholds a code of honour, decided he wasn’t and complained about the actions for the next three encounters. That’s about as much roleplay as usually happens.

Where as in non combat systems, it is all about the roleplay. The  number of draws I make in a game tend to be very low, especially for my more social characters, who just sit around and talk, so I have to have the character’s world views and opinions mostly formed before I go into conversations, because the entire game is based around how characters react to problems and dilemma’s that they are faced with, and building up the various relationships with the other characters. Stats tend to be incidental, and are asked for by the ref when it becomes necessary.

There was just something about the difference that struck me. Combat LARP are all about the combat, so we don’t appear to need the character development, we focus on the skill and points development. Whereas other live actions games focus on character and events and how people change over time.

I think the exception to this are festival LARPs, like Empire which is happening this weekend. Because although there are combat elements to the weekend, it’s not what we do all the time. Most of the time we are in a field with other people and roleplaying so we have to have our characters interacting with each other, and thus characterisation becomes a big part of that straight away.

Overall, I think I concluded that characterisation seems to be inversely proportional to time spent whacking people with fake weaponry.

I might be rambling a bit, but I was just having some interesting thoughts, and it struck me because I am a person who like numbers, so when I hear of a new game that I might get to play, I often jump in and start crunching the numbers and looking at the stats of a character rather than the characterisation, no matter what kind of LARP system it is. It’s taken me some number of years to look at characterisation more closely, and think about the character as a person and flesh them out before I put numbers to that concept. And I do back slide. A lot. For instance a non-combat system I play in, Shades of Norwich: A Requiem Chronicle, is about to have it’s last game. However, the refs are going to run a new system in 2015, Dark Metropolis, and already I have four potential characters statted up with numbers on spreadsheets. And only one of them has any characterisation. It is the one I intend to play, and I am quite happy to scrap those sheets with their numbers and start again with the simple idea of playing a very shy researcher (my concept in a nutshell) but I do realise that I like numbers and maths and stats and will jump on any chance to stat characters first and characterise later.

Of course with writing, there are no stats, and I have to focus on the characterisation, which in turn helps with gaming, and in gaming I only have to work on one character and make them a believable person, and then I can look at how other people make their character’s believable, and that feeds back into my writing for the characters in my books. Circles and roundabouts, it all works together in the end.

Day five is all about characters. The exercise today focuses on items that the character might possess. The things that one possess tell you a lot about the person. For instance, walk into my bedroom and my posters will immediately show you a love of fantasy and dragons, my desk with it’s completely collections of stationary will tell you that I like sets and stationary, even if I do most of my work on the computer these days, and my wardrobe with all it’s jeans a few skirts shows you I favour a casual look most of the time. Whereas someone else with band posters and a large CD collections will portray their love of music immediately.

So today’s exercise comes in three parts. Part 1 – Write a list of 25 things that one of your characters might own. For this exercise I will focus on Willow, the very first character that I created.

  1. Motorbike
  2. Keys to her own mansion
  3. Occult Texts
  4. MP3 Player
  5. Ji
  6. Coronet
  7. Top of the line phone
  8. Catsuit
  9. Maps of the World, varying ages
  10. Blueprints of buildings
  11. Lock picks
  12. Ceremonial Robe
  13. Woven bark and leaf jewellery
  14. Military grade secret files
  15. Framed Sketches
  16. Pair of short swords
  17. Laptop
  18. Sapling tree
  19. Satchel bag
  20. Ornate hairbrush
  21. Floor length mirror
  22. Handwoven blankets
  23. Large coffee mugs
  24. Candles
  25. Mounds of cushions

This is turning out harder than I thought. The interesting thing about Willow is not what she had, but what she lacks. She resorts to using magic for a bunch of stuff, so quite a lot of everyday items that you would expect to see round her house, just aren’t there because she uses magic instead. For instances there are no matches of lighters in the house. She has a mansion not because she needed the space, but because she could buy one. She has a room packed out with the latest games and consoles, which she never uses. She only has two pairs of shoes because she likes to be bare feet so that she can feel the pulse of the earth better. There is no clock in the house because why would you need one when you intrinsically know the time. She’s an interesting person.

Part 2 – Choose five of those items and write down how your character came by them.

  1. Coronet: A half elf, half human, she’s also the heir apparent to the elven kingdom. Her grandfather is the current King, but her mother, the former heir apparent, was banished. Unfortunately for the elven empire, they got the wording of the banishment a bit wrong, so only Willow’s mother was taken out of the line of succession, not any children she might have. The coronet appeared on her head when she made her claim to be the heir apparent. Now she leaves it manifested most of the time, otherwise it’s slung over a corner of her full length mirror.
  2. Mounds of cushion: They don’t match, and they come in a variety of colours. Willow buys one whenever she finds one that she likes the look of and is soft and they comes from all corners of the world (she’s a frequent flyer). She has mounds of them all over her house, in windows alcoves, chairs, and sometimes just stacked in a handy corner. She has the habit of picking up something to read and then stopping on the nearest pile of cushion to read it. Being comfortable is of the utmost importance.
  3. Woven bark and leaf jewellery: The palace of the elves is inside of massive tree, referred to the elves as the mother and father of all trees. When Willow visited for the first time to make her mark as the heir apparent, the tree itself accepted her by gifting her some of it’s own bark and leaves, woven together through magic into wearable form.
  4. Military grade secret files: Willow likes to know what is happening around the world, in all areas. She has many friends in many places, including the military and politic circles. Several of these have high levels of security clearance and access to these files. Willow pops in and makes copies of the files. Without them knowing, obviously. She takes great pleasure in going through mission briefings with a red pen and highlighting which bits of information are wrong and then returning them. The mortals can only do so much with their limited powers, bless them.
  5. Motorbike: A fast, loud racing machines, when asked Willow will say that she won it as part of a gamble, although the person that she won it from will change from day to day. Sometimes it’s simply a bunch of mobsters who thought they could outsmart the little lady, other times it was vampires, werewolves or even demons. But it definitely appeared out of the blue one day.

Willow’s come a long way since I first thought of her. She’s basically got ultimate power and knows everything (or thinks she does anyway) but by gods is she egotisical, egocentric, and full of herself. But when the universe whispers in your ear constantly, wouldn’t you be as well?

Part 3 – Choose one object your character might prize and write a short scene describing what might happen when that object goes missing.

Willow pursed her lips and looked the mess that she had made of her room. Her bedding was in disarray, the drawers had been pulled out of her dresser, and there was stuff on the floor everywhere. All in the name of a lost item.

She sent her senses pulsing out, searching for any electrical current that might be around, but all she got a response from was her phone. That either meant her MP3 was out of battery, or it wasn’t in the room.

With a huff, she waved her hand across the room and everything rose at her command and settled back down into it’s proper place, the wardrobe filing itself into colour order, the drawers slid back into the dresser and the bed made itself as she stalked out of the bedroom and into her study.

She repeated the process in there, and huffed when she found the same result, nothing but her laptop in there, even when she threw everything out of the drawers and searched round her bookshelves.

She remembered having it the other day, blasting out some new songs from her speakers, but as she checked the speakers in the lounge, communal area, second lounge, kitchen, they were all empty.

What had she done that day? Her hands were on her hips and she blew a strand of hair out of her face and narrowed her eyes at the cooker. Gotten up, visited France for a lunchtime meeting with a client, come back home, danced around, sent some letters, then in the evening…of course! she’d gone down to Hell for their night club.

Two fingers in the mouth and she blew a piercing whistle that would have been strangely silent in any mortal ears. Within a minute, she could smell sulphur in her nose as something materialised in front of her.

“Tremble, O Mortal-”

“Skip the crap, it’s me.”

“Uh-” The imp look startled as he realised quite who’s kitchen he was hovering in. “How may I aid you, oh marvellous-”

“My MP3, did I leave it down in hell?”

“I shall undertake this task for you in the speediest and most efficient manner, oh great-”

“You’d be quicker if you stopped talking, mush!”

The imp disappeared in another cloud of sulphuric gas and with a flippant hand Willow sent a hearty breeze through the kitchen, causes the pots and pans hanging on their hooks to rattle.

Her tapping foot echoed throughout the hall as she counted the seconds that the imp took. Fifty two of them later and it popped back into her kitchen.

“My lady, I have found your desired device.” he extended his small clawed hands, and in them sat her MP3, thankfully not covered in Hell dust.

“Awesome. Just for that, I’m going to let you make your own way back to Hell. Go on, scoot.”

The imp bowed towards her, muttered something that made her flick a finger at it, setting it’s forked tail on fire and sending it spinning back into it’s own realm. Still in high humour, she snapped the headphones over her ears and hummed along to the tune that had managed to stick itself in her head.

C'est La Vee

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