Developing a characterisation is like a jigsaw puzzle. You solve the bit around the edges first – the most obvious characteristics – and then try and fill in the middle a bit at a time until the whole picture presents itself.
There is usually one critical “piece” of the puzzle, which – when ‘solved’ – connects several more, like dominos falling one after another. In most cases, that critical piece will be a question of motivation – why does the character want what they want? Why are they going to act the way they are?
Psychology – especially in the form of
The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr Linda N Edelstein – can help (if you want to consider purchasing a copy, just click on the cover thumbnail). The guy I co-GM the Adventurer’s Club campaign with and I were so impressed by this volume that we gave all our players copies as extra christmas presents.
But sometimes it’s not enough, or you have absolutely no idea of the shape of that critical first piece. When that’s the case, there are a number of techniques that can be applied. Anything from random lists of personality traits to the visual appearance of the character to the character’s name can get you started.
And sometimes they can’t. There will be times when you have no idea what you want, when those random lists just seem uninspired or nothing on them seems to fit.
That usually means that your subconscious knows what it wants – you just have to find some way to reach through the fog of uncertainty to extract that critical piece.
There will also be occasions when the critical chain you are following runs dry before enough of the puzzle is complete.
When that’s the case, I have two techniques that I use. One is something I was taught in Graphic Design, as The Thumbnail Method; the other is to work from the known and apply The Inversion Principle, which I also occasonally refer to as “The Perversion Principle”. But I’ve just thought of a third one, which I’ll call the Window Shopping technique. This series of posts will detail all three techniques.
It’s also worth noting that these techniques work equally for NPCs and PCs, GMs and Players.
- The Characterisation Puzzle: When personalities are hard to find
- The Characterisation Puzzle: The Thumbnail Method
- The Characterisation Puzzle: The Inversion Principle
- The Characterisation Puzzle: The Window Shopping Technique
- The Characterisation Puzzle: The First Decision