It happens on a regular basis – you get that feeling, that bubble of energy about to burst through your chest – the need to create a new character or you’ll die.
You just know this one is going to be awesome. You grab your pen – or laptop – hands poised to craft a deep, complex individual capable of the greatest depravities or heights of heroism –
– and stay there. For a long time.
It’s hard coming up with backstories, appearances, motivations and personalities for characters, and it OK that it’s hard. You’re basically creating a being out of thin air using only your imagination.
So I’ve come up with a few methods for melting the creative ices, some typical and some not so typical. Hopefully one or two will work for you!
- Look to your Friends. They say it’s best to write about what you know, and I believe that holds true for creating believable characters as well. Here’s another applicable truism – a kernel of truth makes for a believable lie. Pick a friend, exaggerate some of his/her more apparent characteristics, and place her in the setting of your game. Ask yourself why your friend is motivated to act the way she does in real life, and tweak it to fit your character’s backstory.
- Roll a Die. Tabletops aren’t the only games that benefit from rolling the dice. One of my absolute favorite ways to get unstuck is to leave it to chance. For example, I’ll assign each race a number of the die and whatever number I roll, that’s the race of my character. I do the same for skill set, profession, moral code, etc. You then fill in the gaps with a backstory to make it all fit together. It generates some brilliantly unusual characters!
- Watch a documentary (or read a nonfiction novel). These are gold mines of inspiration. Real people, acting in really pure and passionate ways. Motivations have been thoroughly analyzed and fleshed out. As the bespectacled academic explains it to you on screen, you can apply it to your character.
- Read a fantasy novel/watch a fantasy series. This one is pretty self explanatory. Plenty of inspiration for plot lines, character appearances, relationships, etc. Plus, the more you read the better you write.
- Speaking of writing, read through a list of descriptive adjectives. This gets you thinking about characters who embody those adjectives. They’ve been the springboard for a few of my favorite characters, particularly the word “nefarious“. Oh, and “machinations,” usually preceded by “evil” (in that case I actually created a character who had accidentally been the cause of the villain’s decent into…well, villainy, and vowed to stop her).
- Pinterest. Can’t get enough of it. Type in a search like, “Character Inspiration”, “Fantasy Character”, “Motivation”, “Emotions”, “Medieval Outfit”…the possibilities are endless. As is browsing time. Plus, you can pin all your favorites to boards and come back to them whenever you need an inspiration top-off.
- Visit a Museum or an Art Installation. The historical outfits, advanced weaponry and futuristic clothing (depending on the type of exhibit) will do wonders for your own character development. Perhaps it’s a lady’s comb, or the particular texture of leather on a military uniform, or the geometrical shapes on a shoe that sparks your next great idea.
- Check out Character Design Inspiration‘s Tumblr. It’s fantastic. Not only do they offer fashion, accessory and historical images, but they also have short, easily digestible character design tips and tricks. Love it. (Double Tip – Pin some pictures from the Tumblr to your Pinterest!)
- Listen to Music! Personally I prefer epic soundtracks or trailer music. Anything by Posthumous, Kerry Muzzey, Hans Zimmerman, Bear McCreary (Battlestar!!), the Inception and Gravity soundtrack’s…oh wait no, my absolute favorite ever is the soundtrack to Mad Max: Fury Road, especially Brothers in Arms. Can’t get enough of it.
- Read the Funnies. Because sometimes you just need to get out of your own head for a bit, laugh a little, not think about anything character-related. My favorite right now is the Awkward Yeti. Liked it so much I bought the book.
Have any tips or tricks of your own? Awesome websites? Inspiring books? Leave them in the comments!