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Creating Better Characters

I'm currently reading a great book about writing, Stein on Writing, and I've run across a LOT of material that's relevant for gaming, especially in the area of characterization.

Stein's view is that what makes great stories is great characters, and his book is full of practical advice to writers on how to create better characters. One passage in particular that caught my eye is this one.

There are many ways in which characterization can go wrong in the hands of a less experienced writer, but two stand out because they are so common in rejected fiction. There is the protagonist with a weak will, and the villain who is merely badly behaved.

Stein goes on to propose this exercise for the writer whose character is wimpy, shy, or without clearly defined wants and needs:

I ask the writer to imagine that he is in his study with the door closed. A person outside wants to come in. The writer orders the intruder to stay out. I ask the writer to imaging a second person outside his door who says to the first, "Get out of my way," then comes into the writer's study without asking. The writer starts to object and this second intruder says, "You shut up and listen for a change" That second person is the writer's replacement for the wimp. That's his new protagonist.

I've been trying this exercise mentally with some of the weaker characters I've played, and I think it's very useful to creating characters with more fire. What do you think? Have you ever played a wimpy PC? Do you think this exercise would work for that character?


Wow, I've owned this book for about ten years and never looked at it with a gaming eye. Time to dig it out. Thanks, Tony!

Chris B.

Yeah, I'm working on a game right now so pretty much everything I see is about gaming for me.

I own Sol Stein's How to Grow a Novel. He's a dude to keep an eye on.

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