Before I jump into today's topic, there's a bit of housekeeping stuff I need to attend to. Alex J. Cavanaugh is celebrating 200 followers and he's holding a contest for it. I only recently started following Alex, but I'm a big fan. Check out this trailer for his book CassaStar:
If that doesn't get you excited about the book, I don't know what will. I'm seriously hyped to pick this one up.
The reason for today's title isn't to show off my geek card (though I do have one, in solid gold no less). One of the blogs I follow had a post a while back that got me thinking about character traits. I tried to remember who it was, but I honestly don't know (so if it's you, please accept my most humble apology for not giving credit where credit is due).
Now for the uninitiated, here's a quick glimpse into what DnD involves. The Gamemaster (GM) is a storyteller, and he tells how the player characters got where they are. Each player has a character they have created (on paper), and they are usually focused in a specific direction. For example, there may be a party composed of a warrior, a bard, a priest, a mage, and a monk. The player characters (all sitting around a table) then listen as the GM unfolds the story and they walk their characters through the GM's world, fighting, saving people, obtaining treasure, and making choices. This is an extremely simplified view of things, but hopefully you get the idea. If you're a DnD vet or just interested in learning more, my friend Matt Conlon has a great DnD blog you should check out.
Back when I was an avid DnD gamer, I was part of a group that had an extremely talented (GM). He was very creative, and he would challenge us to make the characters we played more realistic. So before one session, he wrote random character traits (faults, actually) on note cards and had us pick one. They were things like drug addiction, alcoholic, uncontrollable temper, easily seduced by women, etc. We were then expected to incorporate these traits in how we managed and played our character. Some of the players didn't like the change, probably because they just wanted to go kill stuff and loot treasure holds. Looking back though, this was one of the most fun sessions I experienced.
I believe my particular character got the fault of being an alcoholic. This meant I had to make sure he always had alcohol on him and that he was always drinking. It also meant minor to severe negatives during combat, depending on his level of inebriation. It was a lot more difficult to play, but it made my character that much more real. And it challenged me to literally step into his shoes for a bit.
I am in the process of fixing a short story, and the biggest thing I have to fix is characterization. On my first draft, my characters were flat. I was using amateurish tricks to liven them up, but I recognize now (thanks to my critique partners in the short story class) how flat they are. Thankfully a friend has offered to help me out a bit, since some of the characters are mythological and I need more knowledge in that area.
Remembering that DnD session though, has put me in the right frame of mind for this. One thing that does make a character more real is quirks, traits, or faults. Now I'm not saying I'm going to randomly assign my character to be a drunk, but I am trying to once more step into someone else's shoes. Is my character rich? Are they poor? How does that affect their psyche? What about my mythological immortals? How does living forever change their outlook, and what habits have they picked up? All of these questions (and more) are running through my mind, and I'm hoping my previous DnD experience will help me answer them.
In your writing, are you asking questions about your characters? Do they have traits you haven't yet identified? And how will you include hints of them without stalling the story?