Character bonding. Sounds a little intimate, I know, but that’s what happens with professional role-players. They don’t just create their character, they become it. They alter their personality and attempt to view the world through this individual’s eyes and experience it as an entirely different person. This is the reason that most role-players like to base their characters off of themselves; because it’s much easier to re-enact your own personality traits and think about what you would probably do if you were your character.
With a little extra bravado, of course. I mean, would you really want to stray into the dragon’s lair if it meant death around the corner? As a character, sure, bring it on, but if it were really happening, probably not a chance.
Let’s look at a few Runescape examples. Those who have played the Dorgeshuun questline have encountered a character named Zanik. She’s curious, inquisitive, and confident; willing to represent her race of cave goblins even if it means personal sacrifice. As you continue to play the questline, she more and more begins to develop not just as a major character, but also your own character’s partner. You see her wandering around, and you immediately run over and hope she’s got some interesting information or another adventure to go on because that’s what you relate her to. What makes her unique, though, as a computer character? Well, for one, she’s a cave goblin. If she was a human, she probably wouldn’t be quite as interesting as she is now.
Another example is Savant, your CommOrb contact. She is somewhat emotionless, but that’s derived from her always being at a desk and never really exposing herself to danger. You do a few quests with her, acting as your source of information and objective marker, who puts her clever mind to work trying to pull you through the most subliminal of paths. We’re still waiting to meet her in person, but even the fact that she’s only contactable by CommOrb sets her apart as unique.
Of course, there are characters that you really can’t decide what kind of personality they should have. Wizard Traiborn is an example. He’s crazy, but at the same time formidably clever, and he talks about mumbo jumbo unless directly outfitted by a proper and important task like making a Cake of Knowledge and … ah, I’ll let you figure out the other.
Outfitting your character with a foreign personality helps the role-player pose a different sort of outlook and become more flexible. Perhaps they are very timid in their nature and they create a character who doesn’t know the meaning of fear, pain, or sacrifice, and will take on an entire undead army solo without any second thought. This is where it gets fun. You defy your own expectations and cast yourself into a world of perpetual darkness, wondering what will come next and if there’s any possible way for this character to survive.
Not just that, but there’s character interaction as well. What happens if you join two identical personalities together? You get this annoying mind-reading dialogue where both characters speak and react without even a millisecond to think about it, and even if they do, it’s usually in this intentional, annoying slow-motion with low background violins to accompany. About 80% of machinimas out there incorporate this, unfortunately, and it immensely takes away from the effect. Of course, that’s not to say there must be a pause before a character speaks. It’s just, too much of one thing is bad, that’s all.
OK, let’s play a little bit. Create a character based off your own personality. It can be the same name, same ideals, same beliefs … heck, while you’re at it, just picture yourself standing there, inside a room, resting on an expensive chair of some kind. The door of the room opens, and another person of the same gender as you enters. This guy’s got blue hair, green skin, and purple eyes.
Why? Because I said so.
Whenever he speaks, he stutters with every second word and fidgets. If you raise your voice, he jumps in fear. He constantly likes to agree with you, but if he really thinks otherwise, he will hesitate before saying so, in fear that you might get angry that he disagrees.
Try to have a conversation with this guy. Let him walk in and start with a line from your character.
Here’s a couple of helpers to get you started:
“About time. You’re late for your appointment.”
“Well, how did it go?”
“Well, well, well, look who it is.”
“My word, what happened?!?”
“You don’t have much time. Out with it!”
Play with this scenario for about 5 minutes or so. Don’t worry, this text isn’t going anywhere. … unless there’s a blackout, in which case, it’s merely a coincidence, nothing more.
Personalities usually derive from experiences. The big aspect being what I like to call their “Past Basis”, which defines what had happened to the character the majority of his life to create their personality.
For example, a man who has had a spoiled, carefree childhood will probably resemble a formal, noble gentleman or a dimwitted, tooth-faced snob. A man who spent 90% of his childhood doing chores might be a disturbed, neglected individual, or a hard-working, tough, and friendly sort of guy. A guy loved by all and who has achieved a lot in his life may be either a polite, respectful, wise sort of guy, or an arrogant, selfish braggart.
… I know that look. I’m giving you examples with completely contrasting personalities. How are you supposed to tell the personality of the character with just the Past Basis?
Truth is, you really can’t. People truly develop their own personalities by what I call the “Little Things”. All it takes is for a 10-year old to steal once without getting caught before he realizes it’s not so hard, and he becomes a violent, wretched thief. A poor loser might one day find out he is the world’s best at an obscure sport, and suddenly we have a teacher on our hands.
These “little things” are usually what define your character’s … character. If you can’t give your character a personality so easily, try giving him a few experiences in the past. You can start with the stereotypical “lost his parents early” or “was orphaned all his life”, and then throw in a couple of small things like “killed his first goblin at the age of 6” for a powerful, respectable warrior or “made an apple float in the air subconsciously at the cafeteria” for an incredible, but somewhat loner psychic.
Create a new character. Give him a random hair length and color, eye color, and some clothing to wear, be it armor, robes, civvies, or even lizard scales if you want. Doesn’t need a name. In fact, don’t give him a name, by my command. Just picture the character standing there in your mind.
Now we’re going to give him a Past Basis. This character grew up and was raised by his father alone, as his mother died during childbirth. His father is one of those individuals that tries to be the wise, perfect role-model, but he’s terrible at 95% of the things he does, and is living in a false world of self-respect. Your character took basic education, but never really got into anything interesting because his father wanted him to be a carpenter.
What do you think is the resulting personality? Whether or not you want this character to follow his father’s wishes is entirely up to you, but that’s going to change the personality.
To figure it out, we’ll add some little things. Picture this character in an every day situation. He wakes up and goes down to breakfast, where his father is fending for himself. What happens next? What should happen next?
Start playing with that. Have the two characters converse a bit. Then, before you realize it, you’ll be picking out personality traits like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, probably 70% of the time, you will have fully defined your character once this “dummy” day has ended.
To test it, put him through another, more eventful day like a family relative passing away or his house burning to the ground and see what happens. What’s his reaction? What’s his outlook on life after? What does he resolve, if anything?
Lastly, give him a name now. Is it any different from the name you originally thought you wanted to give him?
Put your character through a couple more dummy days to refine his personality a bit more or simply practice with a character of your own.
You cannot judge a book by its cover. That’s a famous saying that regards that you cannot identify a character’s personality simply by appearance. However, sometimes with stereotypes and proper personality placements, what you see usually is what you get.
Believe it or not, it’s not the appearance that defines a character, but instead, what sets him as unique. There are too few personality types for any of them to properly be special, so we instead rely on the physical aspects of a character to separate them, as it’s highly unlikely they look exactly like each other. Unless, of course, they’re fan-characters, but that’s cheating.
How do you define a character’s appearance? Mostly by our experiences as the human race. Let’s start off with the basics: general species. If your character is a human, you expect several things. Standing upright on two legs with two arms, skin a shade of brown, some type of colored hair only on the top of the head and sometimes chest, average about 5 and a half feet upright. Breathes air, but can last in mostly any environment with the proper equipment. If your character is a fish, then you expect sleek round body, scales, tail and guidance fins, lid-less eyes, uniformly opening and closing mouth (except in cartoons, the lazy …), and gills. It lives underwater, but who’s to say it’s taboo for it to leave the surface?
What I mean by personal experience is that I didn’t have to describe humans or fish to you, as you most likely already know what they are.
But what if your character was a dragon? Well, you’d expect a number of different things. Perhaps you expect a Chinese dragon, which consists of a long, snake-like body, large head, 2-4 limbs, and whiskers. Or perhaps a Western dragon, which is a more reptilian, dinosaur-like creature with wings. Dragons don’t physically exist (anymore, anyways), and yet they’re commonly drawn and envisioned as real, as though they once had physical form. If they never existed, somebody had to have come up with the concept and spread their vision to a lot of people for it to have become a commonplace mythical creature.
But let’s pretend it’s something you don’t know. I’m thinking of a creature called the Ivivvlivilli. They are a bright shade of grey and white, have 5 triple-jointed arms, two paper-thin feet, a wide head with cat-like ears and 7 eyeballs, each at their own individual angle along the front and sides of their face. They can retract their limbs within their body and twist them around to protrude out a different “junction” point.
What the heck did I just describe? You don’t know, unless you see an actual picture of one. You don’t know what to expect with this creature because you’ve never experienced it before. I could write a story about this such creature (well, I actually have at one point), but if it’s not properly described and envisioned, it will confuse the reader.
This is why general mythical creatures like elves, goblins, gnomes, unicorns, dragons, and gryphons are so commonplace; they are unique, flexible, and you can manipulate them dynamically without changing the reader’s expectations all that much.
In a nutshell, your character can be anything. If you can imagine it without straining yourself, it can be easily defined on paper.
Now, you have your species. Time to outfit it. Start off with distinctive traits, like colors, dimensions, features, and capabilities. Because I like dragons so much, I’m going to mould my clay into one. Let’s see … I’m going to make the dragon’s scales a light shade of blue, save for the leather-like underbelly, which is a much darker shade. I want this dragon to be about 14 feet tall, standing up, around 7 feet wide (nice skinny dragon), and about 25 feet long from head to pointed tail. It’s a western dragon, which means it has four legs and lizard-like body and tail, but i don’t want it to have any wings. It’s instead got powerful leg muscles used for swift running and high leaping, sharp, broad back-swept horns on its head for ramming, and the ever-popularly used expression “razor-sharp” teeth. That’s right, not only will the dragon chomp you to bits, but he’ll give you a clean-cut shave and a haircut at the same time.
Now give it some clothes, depending on what it does, where it lives, and what sort of creature it is. For example, I would give a T-shirt and shorts to a human who lives in a sun-dried desert land, but I really don’t think they would suit a 10-foot tall quad dragon. Just the same, the dragon might be a warrior, and I would outfit it with a full body armor plating that covers the torso, legs, head, and tail, but because they’re so differently shaped as a humans (plus humans 99.9% of the time don’t have tails), it wouldn’t work on them.
I also might want to give the human a set of steel fighting claws, but I don’t think I’d give some to a dragon, because they’ve already got them. Unless, of course, it had been tamed and de-clawed for whatever reason, or it didn’t get enough calcium as a young.
That’s all there really is to appearance. Species, traits, clothing, and accessories. Sometimes you don’t need some of these things. Dragons usually don’t need clothes, or maybe your character is nothing but a walking set of clothes.
Lastly, and here’s an optional kicker, if you want to truly make your character unique, give them some kind of birth defect. Can be positive or negative. In fact, the word “defect” may not even apply, but it simplifies things. A missing limb, an extra limb, the inability to do something, the extra ability to do something, etc. What does this matter? If your character’s got a positive defect, the storyline is based off of how it incorporates this benefit the challenges he meets and how he overcomes them. If your character’s got a negative defect, it’s usually based on the struggle that he has to make in order to properly belong to the rest of his species. If he’s not the last one standing, of course.
Back to referencing Runescape for examples. You know the King Black Dragon? He’s got three heads! THREE! Positive or negative defect? Well, he’s the strongest black dragon out there, powerful enough to strike down the most foolhardy of foes before it can even get close enough to touch him. Because he has three heads, he’s got a wider field of vision, three different styles of attack, and in some other realm where everything happens properly and not turn-based, it could probably attack and defend itself from three opponents simultaneously. Sweet.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I want you to create your character and give him so much detail, that you can get a four-year old to draw it perfectly as you imagine it.
Yeah, sounds scary, doesn’t it? Let’s break it down to steps, then.
Start off with the species. What do you want your character to actually be? Don’t go crazy now, this is the easy part unless you really want to make up your own species this early in the game.
Now the traits. Color, dimensions, and features. Start with the color. With the color, you can define the “element” of your character. For example, if there’s a lot of blue, that can symbolize water. Cool, fluid, clairvoyant. Or maybe you want your character a hot, fiery orange. Experiment a bit with colors, then try dimensions. Easy one. You want your character big or small? Fat or thin? Stringy or pancake-like?
Of course, you need features as well, and this is where having a “default” species helps a ton. If your character’s (big surprise) a dragon, common features include horns, teeth, claws, scales, spines, spikes, fins, etc. You want it? It’s yours, my friend. Again, play around a bit. Don’t hesitate to visualize your character with something that “probably” shouldn’t have, because who knows? Perhaps it’s the defining feature after all!
Once you have the majority of the features down, outfit your character with clothes. Or not. Dragons are allowed to go clothe-less, but there are some creatures that really could use the more appealing apparel if you want them to be … well … ah, forget it. Give a necromancer some sinister, pointed, menacing robes, or give a valiant knight some awesome, smooth, and well-plated armor. It’s not so hard. Like with the character, start off with the basic shirt, pants, etc., and then work up to the finer accessories like shoulder-pads, patches, belts, bracelets, etc.
Now for the piece de la resistance. Mentally take a good, long look at your character, almost as though you’re spying on it. Get every last detail down in your head. Make this character truly yours to marvel at.
Then draw it!
… oh fine, you don’t have to. But trust me when I say that even a simple doodle will not only give your character a more static form, but it will become 20 times more easier to visualize.
Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough. Sure, it may be your first character, and it probably is the world’s greatest, but please. Don’t immediately throw him out into the open world with a crudely planned story to boot just to show off your skills. A true artist will NEVER “show off”, but instead, simply “show”. I mean, Bruce Lee never says “Yeah, that’s right, I can kick your butt with three eyes closed” or anything like that. He knows he’s good, but he doesn’t try to show it off.
I’m trying to speculate a reason why somebody naturally does that. When they truly get good, they no longer desire to show off. Probably because they already did once, and they simply turn it into a lifestyle without the need to show off anymore. They know they’re good, so there’s no need to prove it.
Anyways, bottom line. Don’t show off. Keep your character to yourself for a while and tell yourself some stories with this character. You will feel when the time is right, when you become so good that you don’t show off. You just show.
That is the time the world is ready to experience your creation.
Stay tuned for part 3: Disposables.