Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Randomized Characterization

It may be cliched, but writers know that good characters literally do things on their own. When this happens, the writer is no longer the guiding force; the author is simply recording the events to share with others. There is a reason it is a cliche: because it is true.

However, we've all had the errant character who simply did nothing. Regardless of how well-developed, how much time was spent researching him, or any other factor, the character simply does not come to life the way others do.

It's easy to become frustrated with such characters - too easy, in fact - and abandon the project, but a simple (and fun) way to inject life into these characters is by randomly determining some aspect(s).

Many roleplaying games offer randomized tables and charts for determining more about the PCs or NPCs (Player Characters and Non Player Characters, respectively). These come with the caveat that the player should use them more for inspiration than anything else. Tables covering such things as physical features (hooked nose, cleft chin) to lifepath and history (meet an ally, attend school) and all points between are available in RPGs. Of course, if you are not a gamer, you might not want to plunk down that hard-earned cash for books with such a limited use (for your purposes). However, I believe it to be a sound investment, and suggest you look into it before deciding.

You can always develop a system on your own. Using this guide of nearly 500 personality traits as a master list, develop your method for randomizing results. If you have a set of Dragon Dice (for use with RPGs), then you can easily develop a method using various dice; of course, a few six-siders can be used just as well. You can also print-out the list, close your eyes, and flip through each page, allowing the pencil to slide from your hand. Open your eyes and the trait on which the pencil rests is your random character trait. If you know JavaScript, you can create a script to randomize returns, using the list above to populate the results.

We all put a lot of thought into our work, but there are times when a simpler approach not only makes more sense, it better serves us. Stephen King chooses names for his characters from the phonebook! Every niggling aspect of your work need not be so intensely scrutinized; allow yourself a little leeway and you may find your work isn't as hard as you thought it was.

A few randomly-selected features can breathe new life into a staid and uncooperative character and may even inspire you to move in a different direction, changing not just the character, but the story itself!

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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