Character creation (part one)

29 10 2009


This is not a blog extolling the virtues of character backgrounds.  Rather, it links from the series on plotting and identifies what a serious adventure writer can (and probably should) consider when creating NPCs.  Most if this applies to novelists, but I have adapted the teachings for the role-playing writer. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the advice could equally apply to a player that wants to really create an in-depth character.

Character worksheets

A common approach by writers to creating characters is to start with some sort of a worksheet.

Broadly speaking it is a sheet of statements or questions that relate to a character’s physical and emotional state – and a lot more besides.

Character sheets are a basic tool. The more detailed the character sheet is, the better your character will become.

Why a character worksheet is necessary

Many fledgling writers create a simple character sheet – or worse a few lines of basic information – and then dive into the writing process.

I’ll not pretend that this approach is guaranteed to do anything except fail.

Skilled writers may have the full character outlined in their head and feel no need to put it all on paper. The key is, whether it’s conscious or not, they know the answers to the questions most mortal writers put on their character sheets.

Knowing how many characters need a worksheet

How many characters need a worksheet? All of them in theory but in practice, as many as are considered integral to the plot.

If they make decisions in the story, their motives are important. Although not every character will require the same level of detail in terms of a worksheet, it is a good idea to have the basics for all key characters.

My opinion is that nobody every created a weak character because they filled in a worksheet. Many will have been created because the writer decided not to.

Completing the character worksheet

There is no consensus on what constitutes a standard character worksheet. I have compiled the following from adding a number together.

Many of the headings are self-explanatory and don’t need expanding on. Not every heading needs a response, but it’s better to have a good reason not to fill it in than ‘it seems like hard work.’

So, in addition to the stats every RPG game forces you to use to create an NPC or character, you should add:

a. Personal (physical) description

Have you ever considered:-

  • Birthdate – When is their birthday – and what is their star-sign?
  • Birthplace – Not just the country or even town, but also any other details that are relevant. Was there a comet at the moment of their birth?
  • Measurements – What is their body shape?
  • Hair/Face/Eyes/Scars
  • Carriage – How do they walk, carry themselves, sit etc.
  • Voice – Quality, speed, sound
  • Other physical features – This could be make-up or a tattoo for example

 b. Background data

  • Educational Background
  • Occupation/former occupation (they didn’t exit the womb as an adventurer after all)
  • Food/Drink Preferences
  • Car/Transport
  • Pets
  • Eccentricities
  • Clothes (type/style, fit, condition, colours)

c. Personality profile

  • Strong characteristics
  • Weak characteristics
  • Phobias
  • Self perception
  • Others’ perception
  • Ambition
  • Life philosophy
  • Major beliefs (and religious ones – not just the god they worship)
  • Hobbies
  • Kinds of reading material, art, music
  • Favourite colour
  • Description of current home life
  • Moral values/sexual beliefs and practices
  • How does he handle problems?

 d. Problems

  • How does this problem get worse?
  • How does this problem get resolved?
  • Most important thing to know about person?
  • Most important trait to know about person, and why?
  • Does character have a secret? What?
  • Previous relationships and effect on present
  • Synopsis about childhood

 e. Family History

Complete for each of Spouse/dependents/siblings/immediate family/best friend/key friends

  • Name
  • Relationship
  • Age
  • State of relationship
  • Occupation
  • Location
  • Effect on Plotline
  • Other details as necessary e.g. looks, education etc. If they are ‘that’ important, they should have their own worksheet

 f. Who, if anyone? (Events related to the character)

  • Has asked for help?
  • Is offering help?
  • Needs rescuing from trouble?
  • Is a victim of misfortune?
  • Is receiving good fortune?
  • Has been abducted?
  • Is returning home?
  • Is taking from the character?
  • Is giving to the character?
  • Hates the character?
  • Loves the character?
  • Is the character’s rival?
  • Is the character’s supporter?
  • Has a secret?
  • Has ambition?
  • Is successful?
  • Wants change?
  • Wants the status quo?

Next time I’ll cover how to flesh data into a real character.




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