For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
Character development, in novels and in role-playing games: I think that, for this post, I will consider something which will hopefully be of interest to both budding novelists and to role-players.
It is important to try to develop characters, and to try to give them their own voice. Characters need – well, they need character. They should be more than just names on which to hang a few speeches. This is the same for games as it is for novels.
You want to flesh out characters. There are several ways in which to do this. you can create a little bio for each of your characters, noting down specific things about them; what their likes or dislikes are, their favourite colours, what they like to eat or drink, and so on. Just little touches to make a character breathe, and to be something more than a name on a page or at the top of a character sheet.
One way is to begin writing with the character. The more that you write about a character the more that you will know your creation. then, when you have got a handle on what they are like, go back and rewrite the early appearances of the character, utilising that new knowledge of what they are like.
Obviously, not all characters are created equal. If you are a novelist or a GM you may not have the time to develop a minor character, apart from a few broad brush strokes to give some idea of what they are like. That is fine – sometimes that is all that you need. There is little point in investing a long time in some character who only appears on a couple of pages. Give enough for the reader to get a gist of the character, and let the reader’s imagination fill in any gaps. That does not mean that they should be stereotypes, though.
Stereotypes are something which you want to avoid, as I am sure that you all realise. Please, no stupid Irish people, no stingy Scottish people, nothing like that. Every person – even those two-page broad-brush-stroke characters – should be an individual. They must have their own motivation, quite often at odds with your main protagonist. Think up little foibles, little facts, something which makes them stand out and be interesting.
It could be something physical. Perhaps one of your characters has an unusual appearance. Depending on what that is, it will affect the character of the person – somebody who has been teased their entire life because they have an enormous nose is not going to end up being the same as somebody who is complimented for their looks.
Perhaps the distinctive thing about the character is not something physical, but the way that he dresses. In my gas-lamp fantasy novels, a lot of wizards dress quite brightly, after the style of a previous Magician Royal. Here, from Rex Mundi, is a brief example of that: Prenderghast was wearing his purchases: a purple velvet suit and black top hat, the colour set off by a saffron yellow scarf around Prenderghast’s neck. He had also acquired, for his breast pocket, a handkerchief of the same colour. Compared to some of the outfits that Briggs had seen Prenderghast where, it was positively demure.
Of course the most distinctive thing is personality. Clothes can be changed, after all. But a person’s personality rarely changes. Sometimes you only need a few words to get an idea of what a character is like. This is from a vignette in the short story collection One Day in a Dream Job and Other Stories: “He was the kind of man who kept pet wasps. Not that I’m claiming that he actually did, mind – but you know the sort of person who I’m talking about, the ones who actually enjoy being bitter and twisted, and wouldn’t want it any other way.”
As a role-player myself I usually have no trouble in visualising what my character is going to be like, from the start. I try never to play identical characters, either. What would be the point of that?
Some people I know build up their role-playing characters as they play. Their characters do not start out as the finished article. And there is nothing wrong with that.
I suppose that I may have been guilty of that in novels, to a certain extent. When I began my Briggs and Prenderghast novels I had a very clear idea of what John Briggs was like. The idea was in my head, rather then in any notes: the original notes only relate to the plot of the novel, and the strange, fantastical world in which Briggs found himself, after [SPOILER ALERT!] pursuing Jack the Ripper through a dimensional rift. But, despite the fact that I knew what Briggs was like, I think that his character developed slightly over the course of my gas-lamp fantasy novels. I grew to know Briggs better as a character – and if I had then gone to rewrite the first novel I might have written Briggs in a slightly different way.
I’m not sure whether that would have been a good idea, though, in this particular case. I think that, over the course of fourteen novels and a lot of short stories, that you want to see change and progression in a character. At the end of the novels they should have gown as characters. I think that was truer for Briggs than Prenderghast, though.
I think that this issue of character development is something which I will return to in another post. But that is enough for now.