I recently started experimenting with Wattpad – mainly just posting my Free Fiction Friday there cuz, well, why not? It’s FREE!
It’s been a fun experience and I’ve been able to chat a bit with readers and writers and have gotten some kind feedback on my stories so far. Anyway, now that the floodgates have opened and the digital revolution has been pummelling publishing for a while now, efforts like Wattpad remind that there are so many places yet to explore.
I posted a response in the forums to a writer who was having trouble with character development. My suggestion – try using Role Playing Games to flesh out characters. Yeah, sounds strange. “Real” writers might roll their eyes at this, but an RPG session is essentially a collaborative story. For it to work, you need to have all the same elements of a good story: plot, dynamic characters and dramatic tension. I’ve summarized this process before but I wanted to spell it out with clear examples.
Pen and paper RPGs have gotten pretty sophisticated in their focus on story development. My favorite example is F.A.T.E. which is light on rules and requires players to add to the overall story to be rewarded (instead of simply getting lucky with dice rolls). Character creation involves several story-based steps and I’ve grabbed a few from the Dresden Files F.A.T.E. RPG character creation process.
When making a character, your first step is to develop a “High Concept”. What’s the character’s job, role or calling? Their background in a nutshell.
ex. Frodo the Peaceful, Home-body Hobbit
Next you give them a “Trouble” – What complicates their High Concept?
ex. A Troubling Inheritance (The One Ring, an adventurer’s legacy)
In the next step you write short summaries (say a paragraph or so) for the following questions:
Where did you come from?
What shaped you?
What was your first adventure?
Whose path have you crossed?
From these summaries you create “Aspects” which are essentially a single concise phrase or sentence that captures each individual summary.
His “first adventure” could be where he was asked by Gandalf to keep the ring safe many years before the true power of the artifact was understood. An “aspect” or short sentence for that could be:
Beholden to the Gray Wizard’s Warning
As you develop your character, the other players are doing the same and the final question, “Whose paths have you crossed?”, is intended to be a place where one character history links with another. So you would write a summary of an event which say, Sam and Frodo shared. Let’s use where Sam is caught eavesdropping on Frodo’s conversation with Gandalf. Even though it is the same event for each, they would have take on a different aspect to show their unique character. Sam could take as an aspect:
Concerned for Frodo’s Safety
and Frodo maybe:
Must Keep the Shire Safe
The key here is that both of these are in conflict which creates some dynamic tension throughout the story. These aspects should also be fluid to allow characters to develop and change as the story progresses. Using these as mental guidelines as you write will help keep your characters consistent, identify moments where tension can be added and inform you what direction the story needs to take.
Frodo’s aspect of Must Keep the Shire safe initially prompts him to leave with the ring as dark forces close in. This goes against his High Concept but at some point in the story, this High Concept might develop into something like a Bearer of the One Ring aspect and perhaps even his Trouble changes to Beholden to the Ring. In essence, by the end he’s developed into an adventurer all because his initial Trouble and a desire to Keep the Shire Safe.
Conflict motivated action. Action prompted change. Cool story followed.
Of course how and when these dynamic changes happen is entirely up to the writer, but you should re-examine these aspects at each pivotal scene and consider how the events might affect the character. For small changes, simply add or alter an aspect. Big changes? Add to or completely alter the High Concept or Trouble.
The meeting with the elves where Frodo volunteers to carry the ring is pivotal, for instance. For other characters, say when Boromir is alone with Frodo – that’s entirely pivotal. Boromir’s own Trouble of Destined to Rule Men draws him to take advantage of the situation but in the end, he sees his mistake and his Trouble changes entirely: Fated to Protect the True Ring Bearer perhaps…
Whether writing or gaming, I hope you found this post interesting and can find ways to incorporate these techniques into your own pursuits. Geek out with me in the comments about RPGs and tell some of the stories they’ve helped you create!