LESSON Character Quirks: Bringing Your Character Into Three Dimensions

Discussion in 'DEVELOPING CHARACTERS & CULTURES' started by Revision, Jan 29, 2012.

  1. Character Quirks: Bringing Your Character Into Three Dimensions

    When creating a roleplay character concept, what do you think of? What goes into that first burst of creativity? Is it the appearance of the character? How they move? Their weapons? Personality? History? Theme? Job? Chances are, it's a little of each.

    Then comes the hard part: sitting down and developing a character around this concept. Not everyone does this in the same manner. Sometimes, a character is spur of the moment, details discovered through play. However, many times, characters are fleshed out before play. Oftentimes, what most people see in a profile is just the surface of a character, left somewhat vague by design. Clarity and conciseness are wonderful tools, especially when sharing your character with others!

    Of course, there is more to the character than is included on an application or profile, sometimes more than even the creator of the character realizes at first. Certain details may not come out of the woodwork for months, but chances are many can be teased out if you just ask the right questions. But why ask these questions? Isn't the simple and concise enough, in all forms of character creation?

    Well, that depends. A one shot character may not need many details. You may file them away and never use them again. However, you might choose to turn them into a more permanent part of your portfolio, or create a character for a longer plot right off the bat. Chances are, if you run your character long enough, questions will be asked of them, quirks will be manifested, and your character will become an amazingly three dimensional character. If you can keep good notes and think on your feet and have only a few characters, this often works wonders.

    But what if you want more structure, want a fully three dimensional character to start with? What if you have hundreds of characters to keep up with? What if you want to add some spice without adding more tragedy or perfection to a character? You can, of course, write out a detailed history, but what if you do this and still find something a bit lacking?

    One of the easiest ways to made a character more three dimensional is to give them quirks. Quirks are small physical, mental, or emotional attributes that may not impact your character's day to day life in any dramatic way, but still shape who they are and how they act or are perceived. These are generally not major characteristics. They should not be direct representations of extreme or paradigm shifting events in a character's past.

    They should, however, have a reason behind them. For each quirk, try to think of a sentence to a paragraph that explains what caused it, how it affects the character, and how they try to manage the quirk. These can lead to wonderful anecdotes. Now, these stories may never make it onto a character profile, but the quirks themselves have a chance of showing up in RP, so it is a good idea to know just why they are how they are.

    Here are some examples of what aren't and are quirks:


    A limp caused by falling out of a tree and breaking a leg as a child.
    Stuttering when excited about something.
    Batting eyelashes to appear cute because it was in your favorite movie.
    A small scar on the hand caused by grabbing a hot cauldron without an oven mit.

    Storyline Elements (not quirks)

    A limp caused by a traumatic attack.
    Stuttering when encountering your enemy because of the torment you have been through.
    Scarring from barely escaping a bad fire and rescuing a child from the flames.
    Administering food and blankets to the homeless due to growing up poor yourself.

    Now, these two sets of characteristics seem very similar. However, the difference is in the degree of severity of the event that caused them. The second set are characteristics caused by life altering major events, whether good or bad. These are more likely to actually get face time in an application or profile. The first set, however, were caused or linked to minor, sometimes even silly events. These are unlikely to be in a profile simply because it would get tedious to read.

    However, the first set is just as important as the second. Quirks can shape and craft a character, give two characters having a drink something to talk about, and occasionally completely altar how your character might handle a given situation. This last part should be used sparingly. Quirks are strong spices. When overused, they hide the flavor of the character. When used with care, they bring that flavor out, instead.

    So, what if you aren't sure if what you have is Storyline Element or Quirk? Here's a few simple questions to ask yourself:

    1. Does this attribute affect gameplay in a major way more than once in a while?
    2. Has it formed a large chunk of your character's personality?
    3. Do you find yourself trying to draw attention to it in a majority of posts just to get someone to ask what it is all about because others knowing about it might cause it to have a strong impact on your character?

    Answering “yes” to any of the above means you probably have a storyline element, not a quirk.

    So what do you do with quirks once you have written them into a character? Play them! Quirks shouldn't ever take the spotlight (with very rare exceptions under specific circumstances). Because of this, don't post about them every post. The occasional reminder that your character limps when the weather changes is fine. Writing the limp into every post is usually a bit too much. Try to limit yourself to a couple quirks a scene, and mention them in passing. Try not to have your character linger on them too much; these are things your character probably doesn't think of too often unless they are incredibly self centered or introspective in some way. Do, however, have a story ready to tell, should your character be asked why she limps or why he uses so much sunblock, even if that story is only a sentence long.

    Used properly, quirks can make an already wonderful character blossom into a fully three dimensional creation.

    So, are you ready? Here's your first challenge, to get you going.

    Take a character, new or old, and give them a nervous habit. In a sentence to a short paragraph, describe how they got this habit, what causes it to manifest, and how they work to manage it when it does. Remember, this should be something small, not a full on mental disorder. Have fun with it! I can't wait to see what you come up with.