So you’re interested in writing, or maybe you’re interested in roleplaying. One of the first steps in either is to create a character. If this is the first character you’ve ever made, you may be asking yourself: where do I start? Should I focus on what they look like first or their personality? The honest truth is that character design starts before that. One of the most important to things to understand in character design (and roleplay and writing in general) is the difference between in-character and out-of-character.
This understanding is absolutely key in roleplay and even perhaps writing. I have lost friends due to a player thinking that in-character actions were a translation of out-of-character intentions. Our characters were not the closest of friends, and my character would often skip out on the opportunity to do activities with their character. This was solely due to my character having his own interests and close friends. While I personally would have jumped on the idea of hanging out, my character wasn’t interested. The other player took this with great offense. They believed that since my character wasn’t willing to be a friend to theirs, that surely meant that I, myself, didn’t want to be friends with the player. This caused a full blown war between the whole roleplay community. Rumors began of players hating other players for no reason, and the players began to put their own dislike into their characters’ actions. This made characters hate characters for literally no reason what-so-ever, and in the end, the whole community was split apart. Roleplay was demolished. In-character friendships were destroyed, and the characters had no idea why. More importantly, friendship between players were crushed, and it was all due to the simple fact that in-character action was taken in an out-of-character context.
If you learn anything at all from this series, please let it be this: in-character and out-of-character are two completely separate things. Just because two characters don’t get along does not mean that the players don’t get along. My husband and I, for years, played characters that had nothing to do with one another. They never talked, and they both believed rumors about each other that made them both certain they would never be friends. It was solely through in-character interactions that they even began speaking to one another, and in the end, they actually did find that they had several things in common. Both my husband and I were completely shocked when they actually became good friends. Create the characters that you want to create, and if someone believes that you are playing your character with out-of-character intentions, remind them that “what happens in character stays in-character.” At the end of the day, roleplaying should be fun, and it should not create tension between the players. If for some reason you don’t like a particular player, don’t let that be the reason why your character doesn’t like their character. NEVER get into the habit of putting your out-of-character life into your characters. The two worlds should NEVER mix with one another.
Similarly, before you begin roleplaying at all, remember that your character is NOT you. Give your characters the opportunity to be who they truly are without your own thoughts, ideas, and morals getting in the way. Allow your characters to have their own personal interests, and never force them to like something just because you like it. If you share interests with your character, great! But if you feel like your character wouldn’t do something that you would do, don’t force them to do it. My next lesson will be about how to listen to your characters and take their queues with ease, which is another very important aspect to roleplaying realistic characters. Just remember that the actions that your character takes, the ideas they think, the morals they live by, is NOT a reflection of you as a player. If your character is a thief, that does not mean that you want to steal things. If your character doesn’t care if someone dies, that does not mean that you are heartless. Less dramatically, if your character is extremely social and outgoing, that does not mean that you are. I am much more of an introvert myself, but my main character hates to be alone and could party all day long. Your character can be whatever you want him or her to be, and you should not feel guilty for making (and liking) a character that is extremely unlike yourself.
However, if you are brand new to roleplay or writing, you may find that creating a character similar to you in terms of morals and ideas may be the easiest way to begin! For many people, this is the case. For others, they may find it easiest to create a character that is the complete opposite of themselves. It may help the player to understand how to make decisions that are not their own and to follow the mind of the character.
In any case, I DO recommend that you begin with creating a character that is the same gender that you are. Playing opposite genders can be very hard for even experienced players to handle. So while you are learning the mechanics of how to roleplay and/or write, it may be best to stick to familiarity in some ways so you don’t become overwhelmed with the learning process. This may not be the case for everyone, but for most, it is.
When you are first starting your journey in roleplay and/or writing, be prepared to go through a LOT of characters. Your first characters are more like prototypes for you to play and learn with. You may make your first character and realize you hate it. That is okay. That is normal. I have created plenty characters that I absolutely despise, and if I ever met them in person, I’d promptly punch them in the face. When playing or writing a character, no matter how different they may be from you, remember that the point is to have fun. If you are pushing yourself to like your character so much that it’s becoming frustrating, scrap the character and start over. Create something completely different from the first character. For more experienced roleplayers and writers, it’s easier to push through and come up with ways to like a character, but for beginners, I recommend just moving on. Some players may create their perfect character right off the bat, but that is extremely rare. Just remember that you are allowed to like a character that is hateful and terrible. It all depends on if you feel comfortable playing them, and if you are having fun.
Because you may be throwing away a lot of characters at first, I don’t recommend creating elaborate backstories right away. It will be a waste of time and energy. You can create a backstory AFTER you begin roleplaying your character! This is what I often do. I personally find it much easier to get into the brain of the character first before learning about their personal life. I’ll take note of how they react to certain situations, and THEN I will begin to brainstorm about what happened to them in the past to cause those reactions. I may begin a character with a rough overview of their past like where they came from, who their family is, how and why they are in the current area, etc., but then I will let the character do the thinking. After all, when you meet someone for the first time, do you expect them to tell you everything about them the moment they meet you? Take time to learn your character through roleplay/writing, but if you feel like your character just is not for you to play, it’s completely okay to restart.
- Players and characters are different. Allow another player’s characters to act in their true nature without taking offence to the decisions the characters make. You should be able to be friends out-of character and enemies in-character without issue.
- Allow your own characters to be who they are. Allow them to have interests that are not your own. Let them to be evil if it is in their nature. Playing evil characters does not mean you yourself are evil, and playing characters with different interests as yourself does not mean you share the same interests.
- Play with creating a character like yourself and a character vastly different. Some people will learn best through the former, while others will learn best with the latter. You won’t know until you try both!
- It IS recommended for your first character(s) to be the same gender as you are. This is the comfort zone for most beginning roleplayers and writers. If you have extreme difficulty with that approach, try the opposite.
- You will most likely go through a lot of characters before you “click” with one. This is normal, and don’t be discouraged. Only keep characters you feel comfortable and have fun playing.
- Don’t rush into knowing everything about your character up front. It may take a while to figure out their backstory and personality, and that’s fine. Don’t rush your character, and you do not have to spend hours figuring out everything about them.
Next week, I’ll be covering how to listen to your character. Even to experienced roleplayers and writers, this may be an odd and new concept to think about, but for me, it’s an important element to creating characters that “click.” For beginners, it will help you create characters that you can have fun with right up front. The goal is to scrap characters less and bond with them more.