Written February 7, 2020
In this guide, we'll go over how to create a roleplaying character, and how to make that character last and remain interesting and relevant. Roleplaying is one of those things that never quite reaches an actual end. A few RPGs have come to a natural end, much in the way a book would, but it happening is rather rare. Characters always have more to tell, and so long as the interest is there, a site can go for a long time. Indeed, there are roleplaying sites that have lasted well over a decade, sometimes near two!
Over time, the character cast and the plotlines running on sites will cycle out and change, as players come and go, as interest in different characters wane. Each player will need to know how to create their character in a way that they can keep playing them and finding them interesting, even as the site environment changes around them. It's possible that with the natural shuffling and changing of an RP site, they'll lose plots and gain other ones on a consistent basis. Hardly anyone stays forever, and we must know how to keep our character persistent through these times, and consistent.
First off, where do we begin with creating a character? Different people start in different places. The two common ones are, backstory, and personality. These two are however very intrinsically tied together. How a character acts is partially nature and partially a result of their experiences, and no two individuals come out of an experience with the same take-away. For some, an experience fundamentally changes their values or ideals, while for others the same experience hardly makes a notable change at all. Others may be somewhere in the middle, and what they learn and how it changes them will also vary. We must understand that no one reaction is inherently right or wrong. One may feel like someone is playing something 'incorrectly,' but this isn't necessarily true. Everyone's experience is unique, and everyone reacts, even to the same things, differently.
This does unfortunately mean that there are no real guidelines for these kinds of things. How something will affect your character and shape your character concept is entirely up to you, but here are a few tips to successfully make characters sympathetic and interesting to others.
No character is perfect.
This is a big one because a really common newbie mistake is to make a character that has no flaws and doesn't mess up. It's most likely stemmed from personal fantasy fulfillment, but it doesn't make it right. People are inherently flawed and imperfect creatures, but in these flaws and imperfections, they are relateable and interesting. A character with a notable struggle with their self-image can lead to a lot of interesting avenues to explore. Character flaws can also be borne of traits or qualities that are not inherently flaws, taken to an extreme. In this instance we could boost a character's need to help to crippling and dangerous levels, but be aware that the precise execution of these kinds of drawbacks can be difficult to manage, and not pulling them off correctly can lead to a lot of frustration.
Play against typing.
Most have heard of stereotypes. These happen for a reason and many are familiar with them, but if you play stereotypical character archetypes, they're not all that interesting, either to read about, or to write. Add something unique to them, a little quality or trait that goes against their stereotype. Maybe your jock character loves to read romance novels, or your nerd is also an expert martial artist. These are unexpected characteristics that can add new dimension to an old, tired stereotype and break it outside of the norm, making it more memorable and fresh.
Just like in real life, having a little too much reaction and not enough action ends in things stagnating. One should never strive to be the one setting too many things in motion; this ends in a site's overall story leaning too heavily one direction, and can feel like it favours one or two people too much, so it's helpful to have at least one character that is an action character, rather than a reaction character. This kind of character takes control of situations and makes things happen. Proactive characters are interesting to watch in their dynamism, and create action in the story that drives it forward. If nothing ever happens, then the story never goes anywhere, and that's boring. Also interesting is a reactive person forced by circumstance to become an active person.
Characterisation and consistency are key to master in storytelling. A plot and tale can be as fascinating and intriguing as anything, but still fall flat because the characters that it is being told through are not gripping or interesting. Conversely, with characters that are fascinating, whatever they do becomes intriguing, even if it's been done a thousand times before.
One thing I need to stress is not to put too much of yourself into a character. We all put a little of ourselves into them, because it's impossible to pour effort into something without doing things a certain way that you might, or your voice coming through them a bit. This is normal. What isn't normal, or healthy, in fact, is for too much of you to be in the character. Then things become personal. Then you can't separate yourself from the fiction and look at it more objectively.
This is called self-insertion, and it is the very first definition of a Mary Sue. Players would create essentially themselves in fiction, and play out delusions of grandeur and make themselves the very best at everything, and when called on it, would become overly defensive and combative. It just creates an overall unpleasant experience, not only for you, but for those that write with you, too. Nobody wants to be afraid of being honest about how a character acts only to find themselves being attacked because the player took the words personally. It creates a very negative environment, and can lead to very twisted and messed up relationships with others.
Let's not do it, kids.
One thing to keep in mind is that conflict is a very driving force in storytelling. Storytelling in and of itself aims to share the everyday struggles and battles that humans go through, part of the human experience. A key thing to understand is that conflict is not always external; in fact, often it's not! More battles are fought in the heart than on battlefields. These varying internal battles are what drive us to become better people, and grow and change, but these conflicts don't need to be big ones. Instead of an entire familial massacre, maybe a character lost their family through a general falling out, and now they're trying to find somewhere else they belong, or come to terms with the part of themselves that they feel caused this falling out. Dialing things back makes these things more understandable, realistic, and relateable. Everyone's felt like they don't belong at some point or another, but not many people have had an alien race destroy their entire planet.
Now, that's not to say never do things like that, but just be aware of when it's suitable, and when it's better to keep things more middle ground.
Likewise, understand that the internal conflict is always there, but it does change, so don't be afraid to let it change. Smaller conflicts can be overcome over time, and the character learn and grow from the experience of overcoming it, but they will always have something that they need to face, some battle or another waging in their heart. We are always growing and changing, and our striving to grow and become better as people is never done, and neither is a character's.