Creating Characters


Yesterday Faith challenged me to share my idea of using an RPG (role playing game) character sheet to create characters. I’m working on doing just that, and hopefully I’ll be able to post a scan of a sheet itself next week.

For those of you who are not familiar with such things, a role-playing game involves players assuming the identities of fictional characters, and following the directions of a game master. You may have heard fearsome tales of people dressing in medieval armor and descending into city sewers while high on drugs, but that sort of behavior way more strenuous than anything most gamers want to bother with. Imagine trying to read your dice after they’ve landed in two inches of slimy water…yuck. The point to playing is to spend time in your character’s head, which is why it can be a useful tool for writers.

The beginning of a game (or a novel) is a thrilling time. You’re practically giving birth to a new person. In a game, the character’s profession is the starting place, from which the rest of his traits are drawn. Let’s assume you’re creating a thief (my personal favorite, and surprisingly useful to an adventuring party.) I’ll want him to be clever and nimble. In gaming, characteristics are determined to an extent by dice rolling, which means I would need to arrange the numbers I roll to put the highest scores in the abilities a thief requires. Novelists have more freedom than that, thank goodness – all we have to do is declare that the character is lithe and thinks quickly on his feet. But at the same time, it’s good to think about how he learned these skills. Did he spend time in a thieves’ guild being trained? Is he naturally accomplished? If it is genetic, was his father also a thief? Perhaps he was raised in a circus as a tumbler, and learned to pick the pockets of the circus patrons when they were distracted by the show. Each possibility leads to a completely different personality, which drives a different story.

Once your character has a profession, and his basic strengths have been determined, it’s time to look at the particulars. I think our thief became one because he was following in the family business, and received years of training in the guild. Of course, like all of us, there are certain skills he’s honed to a fine point. No one is good at everything, and those people who claim to be tend to not have many friends. We want our thief to make friends with the readers, so one or two really excellent skills will do fine. In the world of a game, such skills would be chosen by the random roll of the dice, but an author can choose anything at all. He’s particularly adept at appraising gems and convincing people to believe anything he says. Sounds like he’s more of a confidence man than a burglar, to me. He’d probably dress like a member of the upper middle class, to blend in with the people he wants to bilk, and he’s likely to be attractive.

But wait…thieving isn’t the only thing he ever does. That would make a boring sort of person, wouldn’t it? Who wants to read about that? He needs some hobbies, something to give him a little depth. In the course of a game, such things would, again, be chosen from a list, and “bought” with a certain number of points allotted to do so. But this thief is for a novel, so we have the freedom to choose anything. Since he’s a con artist, I’d expect him to have a fondness for some of the finer things – perhaps a love of orchestral music. But he’s also a thief, from the wrong side of the tracks, so some of his tastes should run to the more vulgar. Say, an obsession with betting on knife fights down by the docks.

Creating my character using the RPG style has practically given me the story: Tiago, an ambitious thief, is hoping to move up in guild status with a carefully planned confidence game he’s ready to run on the Duke of Jeraldia. The duke’s daughter, charmed by Tiago’s good looks and wit, has invited him to her home to listen to a concert, just as he planned for her to do. Unfortunately, the man standing at the Duke’s elbow is none other than the knife fighting champion, Ulgar, and his manager, Fredo. To whom Tiago owes a considerable amount of money. Tiago avoids crossing paths with the men, when, during the concert, Ulgar collapses to the ground, dead of a blow dart to the neck. Fredo finally sees Tiago, and accuses him of the deed. In the ensuing chaos, Tiago escapes, taking the first boat out of the city. But now he’s on the run, with no money, and a price on his head. How does a thief go about proving his own innocence? Who in the world would believe him?

See how easy that was? And that was just with a couple of traits and skills. Keep exploring, and you’ll soon have more story than can fit in one book!

Next week, I’ll post a character sheet of my own character, Kestrel, as well as some links to good character sheets you can use for your own work. In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend. And don’t forget to stop by here next Friday for a special guest – Jia Gayles, promotions and public relations director of the Knight Agency! And two weeks from now, we’ll be hosting author Kim Harrison! It’s going to be an exciting new year around here!

Misty Massey


4 comments to Creating Characters

  • Beatriz

    ~squeeeeeeeees with delight~

    I’ve heard of this and understood the concept, but it wasn’t until you walked through the process that I really grok it.

    ~dashes off for her character sheets~

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Oh golly, you’re very welcome. And this was just a quick glance…imagine how well you can do with a little effort. 😀

  • Misty I am amazed! I do much the same thing when I teach character creation to high schoolers. It is quite cool to see them put characteristics and traits and such together and then create a story out of it. But I never once thought of doing the same thing myself. (slaps own head) I can’t wait to see Kes’ sheet! But then…you have to Philip’s too! (or is it Phillip?) Need to back to the book!

  • That’s very cool, Misty. I have to admit that I’ve been skeptical in the past when I’ve heard of people using game-oriented character sheets for writing, but seeing how you do it totally changes my thinking. Not that I’m surprised, but you rock. ‘Course, we all knew that already….