Monday, December 15, 2014

Character Building Guide - Part 3: Describing the Character


In this edition of the character building guide we will discuss some basic techniques to describe your character on the character sheet we are putting together. I prefer to use a pencil and paper RPG system as a guide for a basic character sheet, but this is one of the areas I add another seperate sheet. Most systems will have some basic spots for descriptors or possibly a spot on the sheet for a picture. I still find it lacking in this department no matter what system you use especially since I can't draw. This will include some basics like name, height, weight, etc. which are most likely covered on the basic sheet. I will add in some other things that I sometimes like to include, so let's get started!

Method

  • Step 1 - Name Your Character. I usually like to wait until the end of the character building process to do this, and it can be done at any point of the process. This is one of the most important parts of building your character, so you want to put some thought into it. The genre you are writing for can have a big influence over what kind of name you pick. If I am having a hard time with picking a name, I will take a list of first names and another of last names. I will close my eyes and point at a random spot on the paper and use whichever name is closest to the spot I am pointing at. I would suggest looking into baby naming guides, especially if you can find one for the year your character was born. There are many websites with name generators as well that I have found useful from time to time. If you use a name generator be sure to use one that fits the genre you are writing.
  • Step 2 - Height and Weight. I put these two together because they tie into each other. I like to look at a list of healthy weights for a person of a certain height, and adjust the values using the chart based on what I expect the character to look like. So if you want a shorter character that is a little on the petitte side then you can look at the chart of what a healthy weight would be for a character of the height you wish then to be. You then subtract a few pounds from the minimum healthy weight you have found on the list. You can find a height/weight chart here: http://www.healthchecksystems.com/heightweightchart.htm
  • Step 3 - Age. Determine your character's age. This can sometimes indicate how naive the character is, or how much life experience the character has. That isn't always the case though. A young character who had grown up abandoned on the streets would have more experience finding necessities than someone who had been sheltered from the outside world by their parents for over twenty years.
  • Step 4 - Hair Color/Eye Color/Race/Gender. Now we're getting more into specifics of how the character looks. This can effect how other characters react to them especially if any of your characters are racist. I try to stay clear of race issues, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Some people don't react the same to characters that don't look like them. It's up to you if you want to tackle those issues in your story. If your character is an alien then you might want a seperate sheet to describe the alien race. Gender inequality is also a very real thing. If you create an alien race then you should consider the differences in gender if there are seperate genders.
  • Step 5 - Fashion Sense and Personal Style. This is where you decide how your character dresses, styles their hair, facial hair, etc.. Some characters will dress in a more functional way for their profession. Some will dress for comfort by wearing baggy or loose fitting clothing. This can also have an effect on how people react to the character. High society may look down on those who can't afford or don't dress using the latest fashion.
  • Step 6 - Other Distinguishing Features. Scars, tattoos, and birthmarks can be included here. Perhaps your character had their nose broken and it healed crooked. If your character is of an alien race then you can add face tentacles or hard spikes instead of hair. If you have a seperate sheet that describes the alien race then you can describe unique features that the character has for a member of that race.
  • Step 7 - Picture Your Character. Now that you have all of the physical details, you can get a good idea of what they look like. Close your eyes and picture them in your mind. If you want to be more visual then you can use google to try to find a picture of them. If you fancy yourself an artist then you can draw a picture of the character yourself. I prefer the mental picture to an actual picture because readers will form their own picture of the character that is unique from yours. I don't think their picture is any more or less valid than the author's picture of the character, and I enjoy seeing reader art.

Example

  • Name: Penta Torov
  • Height: 5' 3"
  • Weight: 103 lbs.
  • Age: 14
  • Hair: Black and curly
  • Eyes: Blue
  • Race: Human
  • Gender: Female
  • Personal Style: Penta prefers black or dark colored clothing. She likes tight fitting clothing that has good mobility, so she dresses in a more functional way. She likes hoodies.
  • Scars: On the back of the left hand going diagonally from the knuckles to the wrist.
  • Tattoos: An ornately designed cross on the right forearm.

Use

Penta has reached the jump, but there's a problem. The distance looks too far for her short frame. She pulls back her black hood revealing her equally black hair. She has lived in fear of a day like this for all of her fourteen years. The zombies are coming, and she's not sure if she can make the jump. It looks like the diggers were a bit overzealous on this side of the settlement.

She peeks with baby blue eyes over the edge of the trench. It's at least thirty feet down. She scratches at the scar on the back of her left hand. A reminder of the last time she didn't make it across a jump. Her parents were there to save her then, but this time she's on her own.

Penta walks away from the gap in the ground giving herself room for a running jump. She can see the zombies limping their way towards her, and now that she's closer she can hear their faint grunts. She pulls up her sleeves revealing the cross tattoo on her right forearm. It is still pristine with all of the ornate designs that are supposed to protect her. It is meant to be more of a warning. She had heard stories of people who had been bitten. Their cross tattoo did nothing for them. They were in agony for days, complaining about burning on their skin. Before they had fully turned, the skin containing the cross had turned black.

The zombies will be on top of her if she keeps procrastinating. There's no other path to escape other than the one in front of her. She takes off in a sprint towards the jagged gap in the ground that represents the edge of the human settlement and the barrier she must cross to reach safety. She reaches the edge and leaps.

So far so good. Next post in the guide we will flesh out the character's physical attributes and find out if Penta makes it across the gap!

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