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Article - 'Creating a Person' by Xanqui

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Jan 17, 2005

Blurb

An in-depth guide from Xanqui about character creation. This isn't written for the impatient storyteller.

Body

When designing a plot, creating the characters can be the most difficult part. And rightfully so. Characters are vital to the plot. Without them, there would be no story. But characters must be more than just the vessels in which the story line uses to progress. They too must have their own stories and reasons for being there. They had to be born at one point, and they will have to die at one point.

This article is called "Creating a Person" rather than "Creating a Character" because a character is a vessel for the plot. A person is a living entity. A person is someone who is there for himself, not the story. Human beings do not live thinking of what will happen next in a story about themselves, but what will happen in their futures. They seek things for their own reasons.

When you take all of that into consideration, a character and a person are entirely different entities. You must visualize this person being alive, from start to finish. Otherwise, he is nothing more than a tool that could never exist in reality.

Let's start with a basic example: the general of an army. In a story, he probably had several victories and some good war stories. Maybe he might even enjoy plotting out strategies on his spare time. But what is his favorite food? Does the audience want to know that? Probably not, but shouldn't you, the creator of this character, know that? Who are his parents? What did they do? Why did they give birth to this character?

While creating your story, you don't need to know these things to create the character. In fact, most people would probably think it pointless to know this. However, if you, the creator of the character, don't know what his favorite food is, then he doesn't know. If you don't know why he became a general, then does he know?

The first step towards creating a character is exactly the same as making a bio for an RPG character. Everyone knows how to do this, and if you don't, I'll show you.



First, use this little table:

Name:
Age (when the story starts):
Gender:
Occupation/Class:
Race:
Appearance:
Personality:
Brief Summary of his life up to the point when the story starts:

It's simple. You should know most of these, and if you don't, then make something up that sounds interesting. Add categories if you wish, but don't make it too complicated. The complicated part is coming up later.

Now, let's start taking that apart, piece by piece.



Name: Rupert Everell
This is pretty straightforward. But why was he named Rupert? Well, his father's name was Rupert, so I guess this would be Rupert Everell Jr. Rupert's father was a proud man who owned a factory, and he intended his son to take over, but he didn't want the name to change.

The name can be the most important part of the person. Often a name is symbolic to that person. For example, Squall was named Squall because he could be very harsh towards people. A squall is a storm, which is perfect for that character. But a name doesn't have to be symbolic. Maybe you like the name Rupert, and have always wanted a character named Rupert. That's fair enough.



Age: 18
Rupert is young, so he's probably fairly inexperienced. An age like this means that he has a lot to learn in the story. Many people this age are headstrong and impatient. Keep that in mind when he needs to make a big decision in the story. Will he take the quick route, which is dangerous, or the slow route, which is safer, but doesn't seem very logical?

The age of a person often identifies a part of who they are. An old man doesn't have much to learn, but he has much to tell. A young person doesn't have much to say about himself, but has a lot to learn. A person between those ages is in the process of identifying who they are in society.



Gender: Male
Rupert is a guy. He always has been. His father was proud to have a son. In fact, his father loved his son so much, he convinced his wife to have another child. Unfortunately, Rupert's younger sibling was a female, but we'll get to that later. Rupert likes things most guys like. He wants to be a soldier some day so that he can protect his family. But keep in mind that his dad wanted him to take over the factory business.

The gender of a character is generally very straightforward. That's not always the case in real life though. Sometimes people grow up not thinking they were born as the right gender. Or maybe they don't quite fit into a specific gender. This is known as Identity versus Role. The identity of a person is what they are; gender, race, etc. The role is how that person acts. In Rupert's case, he's a man, and he plays the role of a man.



Occupation: College Student
This is a complicated time for Rupert's life. He's got his father on his back about running the factory, but he has dreams of being a soldier. Right now he's taking management courses as well as tough physical education courses. Unfortunately, his father is paying his way through college, so Rupert doesn't have much choice in the classes he takes. But somewhere down the road, he convinced his dad to let him take the gym courses.

The occupation of a person says a lot about who they are. The job shows one of two things: that the person is becoming who they want to be, or that the person has failed in what they desired, and has settled for something much less. Rupert's occupation, however, is showing the stages prequeling his future. If he takes the factory job, then he settled for what he could. If he becomes a soldier, then he'll be on the way to being the man he has always wanted to be.



Race: Human, Caucasian.
The story takes place on Earth, and Rupert is more a of a white guy's name. Need I say more?

In a fantasy setting, the race can be vital for the character. If he's a dwarf, then he'll probably be pretty bloodthirsty and short. If he's an elf, then maybe he's highly respected. Or maybe he's a human, enslaved by a species far more powerful than any human. For the most part, human is pretty standard, and if you're working on a more realistic story, then you'd probably want to stick with this sort of species.



Appearance: Rupert is 6' tall, buff due to his rigorous working out, and has very short hair. He wears khaki pants and a short sleeve shirt every day.

While you're creating the appearance, try one of the following. Look around on the Internet for actors or people who might resemble your character. Or, if you're an artist, draw the character. Think of small details, especially what they wear, their eye color, hair length/style, etc.



Personality: Rupert is a headstrong character (I noted this in his age) whose sole purpose in life is to please others. He works hard and is always willing to complete his tasks as quickly as possible. However, lately he has tried to focus on what he wants, rather than what everyone else wants. He loves his family, but he wants to become a soldier to protect his country.

The personality of the person is two things: the inner and outer self. On the outside, Rupert wants to please people. But on the inside, some might consider him selfish. Everyone has an inner and outer self, and it doesn't always have to be opposites. Someone might enjoy helping others, so he helps others. Complexity is often a good thing for a plot, but not every character in a story needs this.



Brief Summary of life: As a child, Rupert was raised by his father who showed him the ways of management. When he was five, his parents gave birth to his sister, Julie. Rupert was jealous of Julie, since his mother spent so much time with her. Eventually, he learned to identify with his father, and the two became more friends than father and son.

When he was ten, Rupert's mother was killed in a car accident, throwing Julie into a deep depression. Rupert's father, Rupert Sr. did little to help Julie, and this made Rupert angry that his father would be so cold. As he went through high school, he did his best to separate himself from his father, but his father was reaching the age of realization that someone needed to take over his successful business.

Now at the age when he can decide what he wants, Rupert must make a decision. He could join the military and get as far away from his father as possible, but risk leaving Julie to him, or he could take over the factory and make sure that Rupert Sr. did nothing to harm his sister.



That's quite a lot for one person. We now know a lot about this guy, and we might even like him. He seems like someone who might exist in reality.

Remember when I said the complicated part comes up later? What you just read was the easy part. I had no trouble coming up with all those little details. This can be the most arduous task of creating a real, solid character.

Now it's time to get to the fun parts. We need to see what this guy looks like, find out where he lives, and lots of other little things so that we can use him in the plot. It's time to start acting as if this guy really does exist.

We'll begin with his appearance. If you're an artist and can draw out your freakin' character, then ignore this. This part is for people like me who want to have a solid image of the character in reality.

Go to some place like movies.yahoo.com and look around in the images for some actors who might play your character if a movie were to be made about it. Don't worry about their current age. If you find that young Sean Connery would work, then use it! Or think of your friends. If you find that you're basing a character on a friend, then try to get a picture of that person. Hideo Kojima, the maker of the Metal Gear series, used Pliskin (Snake) from Escape from New York as inspiration for Solid Snake. While their personalities were quite different, they had similar voices and looked practically identical. But unless you've seen Escape from New York (damn good movie), you probably wouldn't even catch the Pliskin reference in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

If you still can't find someone, and can't draw, try the Hero Generator (Google it) and make a person yourself. This is a great tool.

For the most part, a person's voice matches up with their appearance. And unless your character has a specific voice that you like, then there's really no point in worrying too much about it.

The appearance says a lot about a person. If he's attractive, then people might act differently towards him, and this can affect the story significantly. An ugly person might not have many friends, and those he does have are probably going to be really good friends, or pity friends. Think about the people you see in real life. Do you see ugly people hanging out with the hot girls? If they are, then are they rich? Intelligent? If not, then you're probably looking at an anomaly that no one can quite explain. I'll never get it myself...

So now you've got the person's general life, a personality, and an appearance. It's time to immerse this person into your story. Print out the bio and the picture of your character and keep it on hand as you work on your story. Look at it frequently, and whenever it's time that he does something, think about his personality, or where he came from.

For example, Rupert is getting ready to graduate for college. On his way home, he catches a glimpse of an army recruiter station just outside of his university. His father won't be home for a few days, since he's on a business trip, and his sister is at the top of her class in high school. There is no doubt that she'll receive dozens of scholarships that would not only pay her way through college, but would get her on her way to moving out of the country for a marine biologist job that would be more than happy to have her working for them.

Rupert knows that he risks leaving Julie with his father for a year, who might turn abusive, but both he and Julie would get what they wanted. He has a few choices:

A. Sign up for the military and go to boot camp, hundreds of miles away as soon as he gets out of college.

B. Take his father's job.

C. Go home and talk to Julie about it.

By now, Rupert is fed up with his father. He's pretty impatient, so he'll probably go with choice A. Where the story goes from there, no one knows.

But nothing is ever set in stone, even with personality. Perhaps he was in a car accident, and his father comes to the realization that his son won't live forever, so he should go off and do what he can before he grows old or dies. Or maybe there's a picture of Julie in his car, and when he looks at it, he can't stand to think of what his father might do to her. Anyone can change.