Writers and RPers, this is for both of you so heads up, pay attention. We're going to discuss some quick and dirty tricks for making sure your characters stay the same character from page 1 to page 50 and beyond. And from session 1 to session whatever, you know what I mean.
Because I'm me and have myself for context I'm going to use one of the characters from my Nimbus books as an example.
Augury, would you please stand up?
-gesturing at Augury as the floor rotates like I'm trying to sell you a car-
As you can see, Augury is a 19 year old girl with a metric fuckton of auburn-red hair, blue eyes, and a leather jacket, representing her bad attitude and teenaged rebellion. She's also been genetically altered to throw gobs of fire at people who piss her off.
None of these things are who Augury is. These are all traits. As a matter of fact, these are all physical traits and they matter a lot less than what's going on inside of her. You know, aside from the raging inferno; that is pretty important too.
So what, you might be asking, is important if not the physical description and set of powers a character has? Because if you look at the character sheet, those are the things that you're going to find and a lot of the time people playing tabletop games aren't going to look past that. And besides, if you forget what a character can do that's a pretty big mistake, right?
Well, it is. But that's not characterization.
There are other interior traits, but those are not as obvious. They don't tend to be a laundry list and usually they only come up if and when they come up in the story. For a point of view character this is easy, because you're in their head and they can just tell you themselves. I picked Augury for this because she's been both.
Interior traits, I'll split into two categories; the ones that can cause conflict for the character and the ones that are simply neutrally part of who they are.
For example, Augury is bisexual. This is only likely to cause the kind of trouble for her that any character would have in their romantic life and therefore it is not, in my opinion, a character trait that could cause her problems, it's simply a part of who she is. She's been with men, she's been with women, she's had relationships with both at one point in her life or another, and this is going to color her perspective. She will notice an attractive woman as easily as she will notice an attractive man and generally have the same response.
That is going to matter in general social situations. She's the type to flirt. There isn't a stat on a character sheet for that, and you probably won't find it on a profile sheet, either.
As for some examples of traits that will cause problems for her...
She's hot-tempered. She's the person that will say 'fuck it' and throw a fireball into a group of enemies just to get the party started. It's been a subtle difference, but she's become a little less impatient over the course of four books. A little. She's still prone to fits of rage, she's still the type to hold a grudge, and that means she's going to start fights and that can absolutely cause problems.
She's also incredibly self-destructive. When she thinks she's got something good going for her, she will pick it raw and test it often to the point that it breaks. She's not completely content...well ever. But she's not comfortable unless there's something wrong and if that thing isn't what's going on around her it's going to have to be something social. If there isn't a problem she's prone to cause one due to a restless mind and a lack of an idea of how to reign that in.
So, how does this apply to you?
My suggestion is, like many others, use a character profile. But don't use one of the standard ones they have floating around.
Make a stoplight.
Yes, you want to write things down like a character's height, general build, skin color, eye color, hair color, the sound of their voice, their handedness...but you only have to mark them down as they come up so that you can look back and make sure they're the same later when it comes up again. As a matter of fact, I'm in the camp that believes you don't have to include all of this stuff.
Caveat; in this sociopolitical climate, you want to make sure it's clear to the audience what a character's ethnicity is particularly if you are writing in the real world. Representation is important. You don't have to hamfist this every time a character comes on stage for the first time, there will be moments to slip this information in, but I'll do a different blog on description later because honestly, physical description is the least important thing about a character.
Tell me about a tattoo your character has that takes up their entire left bicep and a part of their neck and depicts a detailed battle between the archangel Michael and the dragon and that will tell me far more about the character than the color of his eyes. I will get a better mental picture of him.
Everyone has that standard laundry list of things. Tell me things about your character that other people don't have, and if there isn't anything (Augury doesn't have a lot of distinctive features for instance), give me the basics and move on to what IS different.
Interior traits! Interior traits that are not likely to cause problems for this character. They should have some. These are not going to be great for plot but they will help to keep your character consistent.
These are things like habits. Does your character smoke? Augury does. That's a little cheat-y because it's kind of a plot point, the chemicals that let her catch on fire are in her cigarettes. What food will they usually go for first if given the choice? Do they have a beverage of choice?
I was once in an RP and my character was really a huge fan of Dr. Pepper. She drank it every time she was in a food setting situation. Later in the game she was replaced by a shapeshifter and the thing that made people realize she wasn't her, was that she picked up a Pepsi.
What's their 'type'? Are they gay, bi or straight? Pan? Ace? Cis or trans? Fluid? (People who are inevitably thinking "that can cause problems": No, it can't. People who have a problem with that are causing problems, bigotry goes in the red section, identity in the yellow, you're welcome.) What do they prefer to wear? What do their shoes look like? List a couple of words for their vocabulary here; how your character expresses approval matters. Someone who says something is 'Lit' is going to give off a very different vibe than a character who calls things 'Awesome'.
Interior traits that WILL cause problems.
This is the big damn flaw section. Things about your character that will, rightfully, rub people the wrong way. I am talking about the things that they do, that cause themselves problems in their lives.
For example, a tendency to criticize everyone out loud is probably going to cause a character some problems. Passive aggression will eventually cause a character some problems. The tendency to have to have an answer and an explanation for everything even when they don't know what they're talking about will eventually cause the character some problems.
Augury is self-destructive, like I mentioned. She's also got a problem with AI. Okay, not so much a 'problem'. Full AI, absolutely they're people. You know when you're talking to a person. But partial AI, programming that can make a couple of decisions but not, say, decide it doesn't want to do it's job? That's still a computer program and you're not going to convince her otherwise.
Write down at least three of these. I know people are always big on 'give your characters flaws' but the truth is rather than 'things that will make your character look bad' you're going to want to think 'things that will throw sand in the gears for your character and cause conflict'.
Making your character look bad isn't useful to you as a writer but causing little conflicts is. You can get a lot of words out of that, friends.
And if you forget to do that at some point in your manuscript it isn't a big deal, that's what editing is for. I have a tendency to borrow people's RP characters for my novels so a lot of the time I have a specific separate editor for certain characters to make sure I'm keeping them consistent. I know not everybody does that but I do recommend a read through for at least each major character.
Okay, whew. That was a lot. Now I gotta go, but hopefully I'll see you again real soon!