Wolf’s guides - Creating Believable Characters
“When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Often, a roleplay will only give you a foundation of the character so that you can develop all those nice little niches yourself. Here’s a guide - sort of, how to do that.
It’s important to note that the following advice is to help make a fully human character. It is of course possible to develop personality without following all of this advice. However before effectively breaking the rules you need to know them first, otherwise you may have a puppet-character instead of a person.
The term “puppet” is a metaphor for a character that is only an extension of the will of a writer and not a fully developed person.
Personality is defined as “A dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person that uniquely influences his or her cognition, motivations, and behaviors in various situations.” In other words your character’s personality will be the behavior your character has with themselves and with others. It’s important to note that even though all people have personalities, the person isn’t his/her personality.
Interestingly, the word “personality” originates from a Latin word that means mask. This is relevant to us because it will help us to understand the. First it’s important to differentiate between how a character behaves with other characters (the image they give of themselves onto others) and what they really are on the inside. In people use masks to hide their real selves mainly for two reasons:
- In order to hide their inner feelings and secrets. For example, thehiding the fact that she is a nerd on the inside.
- To be accepted by others. Characters can behave differently between certain people. For example, tmay pretend to be a good person in front of a teacher.
You can apply this knowledge to characters. Because the struggles between the outside and the inside of your character are an important part of a character’s personality, the following questions will help you to define this aspect of your character’s personality.
- How is your character when alone?
- Does your character treat everyone the same?? If so, why do they act differently?
- Are the feelings your character expresses on the outside really what your character feels? For example: Is your character a?
- If your character could have unlimited power/anonymity, would your character remain the same person?
- Does your character have a burden/secrets that he/she isn’t able to share?
What makes them him/her
Identity and personality is made thanks to 3 important factors.
- Genetics. These factors are in the DNA of the person. They can’t be chosen or changed by the person. For example, sex and age.
- Free will (our choices). Regardless of circumstances, every human being is able to choose how to guide at least some aspects of their lives. These choices are a big factor in defining what we are. People in nearly identical circumstances can take different routes of actions. This category includes our history, past and present.
- The environment. In this category we can include all factors that influence a person but aren’t directly dependent on the person itself. For example, how we interact with the people around us, how people changed our view of life, when and where we live, etc.
This concept means “the capability of making decisions without coercion.” In other words, you need to remember that your characters must have their own dreams and goals. You need to portray characters as how they would act if they were real, as you want them to act, but taking into account their own goals, not as what you want them to act for the sole purpose of shaping theFor example, if your character is a . Unless it’s justified in the , characters won’t betray their objectives nor their personalities spontaneously. That’s the difference between and . whose main goal in his life is to kill for whatever reason, if you make that character suddenly and without explanation forgive and join a ballet academy, this would be considered . On the contrary, if you portray redeeming the villain by understanding his and the villain gradually realizing the error in his ways, this would be .
A classic example of a fakeA perfect example of single-flaw characters is the concept of the “ is being “ .” While this trait appears to be a flaw, it is actually a form of disguised as a flaw; the reason is that a desirable trait is being “masked” as something undesirable. However, it can’t be considered as a true flaw because the benefits of this trait are still present. In this case the character is still going to be considered as special and important because of his/her ‘beauty.’ .” People in aren’t single-flawed. Even though it’s true that people may have a “ ,” people will make not just one — but many mistakes throughout his/her life, and for different reasons. There are two kinds of flaws (your character needs to have both):
Your character can’t always be “the moral standard of your work.” A villain can’t be completely devoid of redeeming qualities. All people have some good and some bad in them (with few counted exceptions). How much depends on each character. Finally, it’s important to note that both making characters defined only by his good traits or by their flaws are signs of bad characterization. For example, a villain could hate revenge, while a hero doesn’t. . Consequentially, having moral flaws will not make a hero less admirable — on the contrary, , heroes with flaws uncharacteristic of the archetypical hero, are more fascinating in modern fiction than
- Skill flaws. Your character can’t be. Characters tend to have unique talents and interests. There are going to be things they aren’t very good at, even on things that they are skilled with. They can’t be perfect at them all the time. Characters need both strengths and weaknesses.
- Moral flaws. Your character can’t be always “right” or always “wrong.”
Multi-facet ability consists of making complex, three dimensional characters that have a lot of conflictingand . This will result in more fleshed out, interesting characters. In return, this will give your character realism, conflict, and a way for your character to show many different sides of themselves. This will make the character interesting, surprising and “unpredictable.”
Interesting characters tend to be multifaceted, because then people will not know what they are going to do before they do it. One way to give the personality depth is to show different sides of themselves but being careful of being consistent in order for the character to be believable. For example:
- Contradiction between what the characters.
- Contradiction between treatments of different people the character knows, like how a working man who is a father seems to have a completely different personality depending on who he is talking to: his child or his colleague. A character’s varied treatment of different people is a good way of showing different portions of their personality.
- Making your character face situations that he/she has never experienced before. For example, marriage.
On the other hand, you can’t make a character unpredictable for the sake of being unpredictable. Worse still is an, in which a character whose personality has already been established momentarily does something that completely contradicts their motives and character traits for no apparent reason. For instance, suddenly decides to risk the lives of his whole squad and break protocol to save one of his wounded soldiers rather than save a group of nearby civilians from some threat. Unpredictable? Definitely. Good writing? Not really. Unpredictability is interesting, but inconsistency is annoying.
Goals and Dreams
All humans have dreams and desires. It doesn’t matter how “gifted” or “rich” a person is. Characters need to have; both in short and long term. Goals can be as simple as wanting a sandwich or as complex as wanting to save the world. Their motivations are very important factors linked to personality. All people desire things (even omnipotent characters tend to desire ). These goals will be very important in order to define a character’s personality.
- What is your character’s greatest desire?.
- How much would that character give to accomplish it?
- What does your character enjoy to do in his/her spare time?
- What are your character’s hobbies/interests/likes/?
. in that could be a good source of inspiration. has an infinite source of unique personalities that you can be inspired from. Knowing psychology is also a good starting point to define character’s personality. Even basic studies in psychology could help a lot to get the logic behind very different personalities (even “insane”) to write them.
Theme characterization is also a very common and a very good source of inspiration. However it’s important to take care when you design a character to not define a person solely by a role (, , etc.) or a theme ( , , etc.). While getting inspired by a certain trait may be a good starting point, a person’s personality is more complex than can be solely defined by one thing. For example if you want to make a character, you need to make a person that also happens to be a , not a that also happens to be a person.