Creating an Original Character
Today I want to take a look at how to create an awesome character for a PBP, or forum, role play. By all means, take these tips and RUN with it! Use them for your own personal writing as well. As an award-winning published author (ha, betcha didn’t know THAT about me!), and as a person who has been writing fiction and fantasy for over ten years, I figured I could scribble down what I have learned about characters. Characters are extremely important. They are the beings through which your story is told. If you make a crappy character, you’re going to have a crappy story. Some authors prefer to figure out the character before they ever consider what the story is going to be about! If you’d like to know what I have learned character-wise for role playing, then check out this week’s blog!
For this blog, I will be slowly building a character, step by step, so that you can see the process I use to create a dynamic, well-rounded, and interesting character. I usually begin with the fandom that the character is going to be a part of. For this example, let’s choose Once Upon A Time. If you don’t know what Once Upon A Time is, check out a synopsis of the show and its episodes here.
1. Basic Biography
The first step I typically do is figure out what I want my character to be. Is it male or female? A creature or a human? I use the site I’m on to help guide me. Maybe I have an inkling of an idea for a character, but I don’t know whether or not to make it male or female. Sometimes forums will give you statistics for how many male characters and female characters they have already. I like to help even things out, and if I’m not set on the gender, I choose whichever the forum needs more of. In this case, I’ll make my character a dude. If you’re set on a gender, don’t worry about this part. No forum that I’ve ever heard of has outlawed making a female character because they have too many!
If the role play I’m a part of is set in the realistic Old West, I’m obviously not going to make my character a werewolf. That brings me to the next part of the first step (that wasn’t confusing at all, right?). The kind of character you create should seamlessly fit into the kind of role play you’re becoming a part of. If the role play is K-Pop related, set in the real world, don’t create an evil android from the future to come back and terminate your character’s mom, stopping your character from ever having been born- er… yeah.
For my character, I want to play off of the specific fandom of Frozen, which is part of the wider fandom of Once Upon A Time. Having him fit into that fandom, I’m going to make him human. One mistake that a lot of people make is trying to create an original character that mirrors or copies a character that already exists. For instance, if I were to create a character who had ice powers, was incredibly misunderstood, and led a kingdom, I’d basically be copying Elsa of Arendelle. That’s not right nor is it very creative. You might think Elsa is cool (what I did there… did you see it?), but you can’t just copy her. No one likes to play with a copy!
Huzzah! We’ve already got a good base for a character. We know that he’s going to be human and in the realm of Frozen/Once Upon A Time. Now we get to start thinking about a few specifics. Like what role does he play in society?
2. Character Specifics
Is your character royalty? A peasant? Does he work as a body guard? Does she know how to bake? Here’s where I start thinking about what my character does, or how he’s viewed in society. If there are wanted ads on your role play site, check them out. If your character could easily fulfill one of the other members’ desired roles, why not help that member out? Wanted ads also pretty much immediately give your character a connection to another character on the board, which helps when you’re trying to figure out where/how to start role playing.
I know that for my role play, the twelve brothers of Hans are really wanted, so I’m going to fulfill one of those requests by making my character Hans’ brother. Since Hans’ brothers are never really given names, personalities, or any other specifics, I can still consider my character an original, not a canon. (Canon means that the character already exists in this fandom, such as Elsa and Anna in Frozen.)
So now not only do I have a male, human character, but I know that he is one of Hans’ brothers, which means he lives in the Southern Isles, he’s royalty, in line for the throne (even if he’s not the oldest), and probably likes to tease Hans quite a bit. (That last part I know because of a line in Frozen where Hans talks about his older brothers teasing him. I’m choosing to use this to help develop my character’s personality.)
You may not think a name is all that important, but actually, it could be the deciding factor on your character’s personality and even their back story. Are they set in a futuristic setting or are they old-fashioned? You’re probably not going to meet someone named Andromedus in an Old West setting, for instance. Names can be used to give other people hints at who or what your character is. If your character is gruff, maybe he has a gruff-sounding name. If your character is a movie star, maybe she has a luxurious, elaborate, one-of-a-kind name. Sometimes, if my character is foreign, a descendant of something ancient, or something supernatural, I’ll use translators to help me pick a word or a name that I like. For instance, I have a character who is The Phoenix from Greek mythology (sorry, Marvel fans). I searched Greek and Latin translations until I came up with the name “Candra Pouli”, which literally translated, means “luminescent bird”.
For my character that I am developing, I will use a different strategy to come up with his name. I know that the tale of Frozen is Norwegian, so I did a search for Norwegian baby names. Out of all the ones I searched for, I liked the name “Nikolai” the best. I looked at the meaning of the name as well. There are several different meanings for Nikolai and its Russian spelling, “Nicolai”, but the one that stood out to me was “Nikolai: Conqueror of the People”, which fits perfectly as you’ll see in our next step….
How does your character think? What does he think of himself? Does she have any ulterior motives? Here is where you get to flesh out your character a little bit more. If he’s going to be a hero, give him qualities that you’d expect in a hero. If he’s going to be a villain, do the same. Some characters are neutral, while others pick sides. Use good, descriptive words when you come up with their personality. Instead of saying your character is happy, say she’s joyful. Thesauruses are your best friend when it comes to this. Here’s what I’ve written for my character’s personality:
Nikolai is a party boy. He has very few morals, and loves to find an opportunity to get drunk, high, or laid. He uses his place in society for his benefit, getting whatever he wants because he’s a prince. He’s good-looking and he knows it, with arrogance and pride rivaled by very few. Although he can be sincere, he rarely shows it. There’s a darker side to Nik. Manipulative and conniving, Nikolai is highly intelligent in the worst way. He has plans for the throne of the Southern Isles and he doesn’t care who his plans might hurt. He’s never been in love and he doesn’t care to even consider it. Nikolai looks out for number one, and that’s about it.
I didn’t just list off a set of traits he possessed. Instead, I wrote a small narrative about how he works, who he is, and what his plans are. When you write out your character’s personality, don’t be afraid to tell a story with it!
5. Special Abilities/Powers/Weapons
Sometimes the role play you are on will want you to list any special abilities, super powers, or specials weapons/objects a character possesses. If, for instance, you were creating a super hero, here is where you would list their abilities and describe, in detail, what each one is. Don’t go overboard here! This is where a lot of people make their characters super powerful with way too many abilities or knowledge of their craft. When a character is too perfect, role players call that a “Mary Sue” or a “Gary Stu”. Nobody wants to play with a Sue/Stu, so be careful what you write!
For Nikolai, he doesn’t have any special powers since he’s just a normal human. However, considering he is royalty, he is probably pretty proficient with fighting styles or weaponry. So, taking his background and his personality into consideration, here’s what I have come up with for Nikky boy.
Growing up with twelve other brothers, Nikolai obviously needed to learn to fight. Although he prefers not to get his hands dirty – instead manipulating others into doing the grunt work for him – he can defend himself pretty well. Not being that large in stature, he prefers quicker, more agile movements when he does fight. Although, Nikolai would much rather fight with his mind. If he can outsmart the opponent, he can win. He can use a number of different weapons available to his family, but prefers, like many of his brothers, the sword. He is proficient in sword-fighting on a number of levels, and enjoys fencing as a sport.
Notice, again, that I didn’t just list off abilities of his, but instead I wrote a narrative, detailing exactly how good he is at what. I also wrote things that he wasn’t particularly good at. This is because I want my character to have depth. He needs to be well-rounded, meaning that he does, in fact, have weaknesses. He can fail. If you pit him up against someone huge and strong, he’s not going to measure up physically. He has to use his mind rather than his might. As far as his skill with weaponry, it would be expected that he would be able to fight with a sword. He is a prince, after all! The point is, you want to make your character realistic in some ways. If you make your character more relatable, more people will want to play with him/her.
6. History/Background/Back Story
This is usually the longest and most difficult part of the character-creating process. It takes a while to write a character’s history from when they were young to where they are now, especially if a lot has happened in their lives. Sometimes it can be short, but forums usually prefer if you go into detail about your character’s past. Most of the time, they’d rather know too much than too little. It also helps them figure out what your writing style is, how in-depth you will get with your posts, and if there is anything in your character’s history that they can tie in with plots on the forum or with other characters.
Most of the time, people do not approve of characters who make assumptions about other characters without approval from other writers. For instance, if I were on a Marvel forum, I wouldn’t just create a character that is actively dating Tony Stark without consulting the person who writes Tony Stark. That would be rude, and it’s called “god-modding” (if you don’t know what god-modding is, check out the last blog). Another thing people usually hate is when a new person to the forum creates a character that is the long lost cousin/offspring/brother/girlfriend/relative of their character… who doesn’t actually exist in canon. If you want your character to be related to someone else’s (and it’s not canon), you really need to talk to that character’s creator. Most of the time they will not like that sort of plot. Why? Because it is SO overdone it’s smoking up the whole kitchen. That’s why. Remember, the reason I am creating Nikolai is because Hans really does have siblings and they really do show up on the show. Plus, I’m answering a Wanted Ad.
Since Once Upon A Time is now in its fourth season, and the characters from Frozen have appeared, I have a little bit of the show’s plot that I can tie in with my character’s background. Not to mention, he has to react to the result of Hans’ plans that failed in Arendelle. So I have a little bit that I can work with. Everything else, I will have to make up on my own. If there were other people on the forum playing Hans or Hans’ other brothers, I could also read their histories to figure out little tidbits I could add to my own, so that all of our stories line up. Twelve brothers, experiencing the same family and the same events, should have stories that are pretty similar.
So here is what I have come up with for Nikolai.
Nikolai is one of the middle Westerguard boys, coming in at number 7 of 13. While growing up, he was picked on quite a bit by his older brothers until the next in line was born. And so it became tradition that little by little, the Westerguard boys were inducted into being part of the “cool” group by their older siblings when the next one was born.
As he got older, Nikolai began to realize that out of all of his siblings, he was definitely the most intelligent one…. Or, at least, that’s what he thought of himself. His brothers, especially the older ones, tended to disagree. They still considered Nikolai to be too young, immature, and inexperienced. They mocked him for not being able to, or even wanting to, fight. This burned Nikolai and he developed a jealousy and a hatred toward his brothers for it.
But, knowing they were right about his lack of upper body strength and his dismay at having to do anything physical, he instead turned to using manipulation tactics to win his battles for him. Blackmail, bribery, and playing with emotions became his weapons of choice, and soon the older Westerguard boys began to see him as more than just a weak, arrogant fool. They began to see that he was truly… dangerous.
And so Nikolai used this ability to manipulate for his own benefit. His silver tongue could obtain anything he desired, especially while coupled with his place in society and his good looks. Sex, drugs, and alcohol became a part of his daily routine. While his brothers were stuck being the upright citizens their parents demanded they be, Nikolai was getting away with murder. Eventually, this began drawing the attention of his tired and weary mother and his overbearing, gruff father. The King and Queen ruled their kingdom with an iron fist. To see their son goofing off the way he was… was infuriating. Knowing he wouldn’t change without severe punishment, the King and Queen had to pull something drastic.
They tossed Nikolai, silver tongue and all, in the dungeon.
This only stirred Nikolai’s anger more and more. He began to plot against his own family, trying to think of a way to eliminate his father from rule… as well as his six older brothers, without suspicion. Knowing it would be incredibly hard to do, Nikolai began to figure out other plans. He soon came up with one that would work without a doubt.
If he became the ruler of another land, he could wage war upon his family, and take over the Southern Isles. But what land would be the easiest and fastest route to this new goal?
One kingdom came to mind. The land once ruled by a benevolent king and queen, who had, unfortunately, passed away in a freak ocean storm, leaving behind two vulnerable, gullible daughters.
Securing this new plot in his mind, Nikolai waited for his opportunity to escape. Little did he know that one of his siblings had overheard him planning. Before Nikolai could get out, Hans had taken off for Arendelle, to celebrate the queen’s coronation, and to put Nikolai’s own plan into action.
Only, instead of succeeding in wooing the queen, he failed at tricking the princess. Word spread of Queen Elsa’s… “condition”, and Hans’ failed plot, as the younger sibling was exiled back to his own country.
Now out of the dungeon on good behavior, his parents more worried about their unruly youngest, Nikolai had nowhere else to go. His brother had ruined the only plan he had come up with. Soon, Hans would pay for what he had done, but not before Nikolai got out of the Southern Isles.
And it was on his way to a land called Misthaven that the unthinkable happened.
Everyone… suddenly disappeared.
A cloud of purple and black smoke enveloped the land, and when it passed, everyone had gone. Where they had been sent, Nikolai wouldn’t know until much later. Unsure of where to go from here, Nikolai waited for some of his other brothers to team up against the ladies of Arendelle, but again were outsmarted when they were frozen for thirty years, along with Princess Anna and her bumbling idiot of a fiance.
Once thawed, feeling betrayed by his foolish brother Hans, and learning that Anna and Kristoff had traveled to the same world the others had gone to, Nikolai left his siblings in search of a way to travel to this new realm. While the Westerguard brothers took over Arendelle, Nikolai set his sights on something grander. The “World Without Magic”, it was being called. A world without magic could not contain someone like Elsa, who had defeated them all. A world without magic would mean individuals who had to use their brains or their brawn alone. Individuals that Nikolai, without a doubt, could best easily.
He found his opportunity while scouting for ships in Arendelle that could take him where he desired to go. But a ship he did not find. Instead, a giant wooden door that appeared out of thin air, greeted him at the shores of Arendelle. Taken aback by this, he waited to see what it was. When Elsa and Anna stepped through and ran toward their half-destroyed kingdom, Nikolai took the opportunity to jump back through himself.
He landed in a large mansion filled with strange objects he hadn’t seen before, but Arendelle and the Southern Isles were far behind him. Nikolai had made it to this strange, new world without magic, and he had plans for it.
Whew! That was pretty long. However, I wanted to tie in plot points from both Frozen and Once Upon A Time, which meant my history had to get kind of specific. This is a good thing! As long as you’re not infringing upon another character’s history or actions, or injecting something that would cause the plot to change completely, your history can get as in-depth as you want. In Nikolai’s case, I would talk to Hans’ player about the assumptions I made that Nikolai is the one that came up with Hans’ plans. If his writer wasn’t cool with it, I would tweak Nikolai’s history until we came up with something that worked for the both of us. Try to keep your writing partners happy. You don’t want to offend someone or god-mod their character, so always be open to more ideas!
I also mentioned specific plot points that did actually happen in Frozen and Once Upon A Time, I didn’t just make those assumptions. Hans’ plan really did fail, and he really was exiled. Elsa and Anna really did make it back to Arendelle through a giant, magical door from the other side. These are plot points I wanted to weave into my character’s back story so that, not only does he have characters that he already knows, but he now has points in history that he can refer to that connect him to other characters as well as the overall site-wide plot.
That’s it! That’s the whole process I use when I create a new character. Sometimes some steps come before others. For instance, sometimes I’ll come up with the character’s personality way before I even know if they are male or female. But this is the basic process I use. I like to delve deeply into my character to know all their inner workings. I’m never satisfied with just surface knowledge or cliches that they fit into. I want to know exactly how they think! This is what makes writing fun for me, and this is what makes me good at it. My process might not work the same way for you. You might put more importance on something that I just skimmed over, and give more attention to something I don’t. That’s okay! Every writer is different. Find your own niche and go with it. 🙂
Please note: All ideas, characters, and situations in this blog are the unique and sole creative property of the author of this blog, Just-A-Nerdy-Girl. Any copying of ideas on this blog or outright theft of creative property will result in the world being sucked into a black hole of Nerdy Girl rage. You have been warned.