On Characters I. Appearance
Humans crave beauty, we might as well admit it right off the bat to avoid extensive arguments about this topic. Some “experts” suggests that the physical appearance of your fictional character is superfluous—the actions of your character being the primary characterization—whereas others maintain the opposite. However, there is one aspect that is unanimous: visualization. “A picture says more than a thousand words,” this is something that we are going to live by in this article. In an amateur writing environment with thousands of people, nobody is going to remember your nine-hundred word description of your character’s physical appearance—you are too unimportant for this kind of commitment. In Seth Macfarlane’s film Ted, the narrator makes a humorous remark about basic human mentality: “No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber, or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit.” In short, use pictures for your characters! No matter if anyone wants to admit it or not, a picture will greatly improve your chances of being remembered by other participants in a role-play. However, make sure to put effort into presenting your character’s picture properly, by editing and respecting the theme of the role-play; for example, if the role-play is not advertised as an anime game, then you should not use an anime picture for your character.
II. Personality & Background
As mentioned in the Appearance section, some suggests that “the actions of a person is the strongest form of characterization,” not who they say they are. However, as we are dealing with fictional characters we must know the basics of who they are—otherwise we will just end up portraying ourselves. Forget about trivial details, you will never remember them and a personality is too dynamic to be set in stone. Think about basic concepts such as temperament, moral beliefs, political stance, habits, fears, short-/long term goals, and dreams to form an archetype for your character. Once you have your archetype in place—the “lone wolf” for example—you will have a basic template of how your character will/should react to any given situation and still keep the dynamics of a personality.
The background story for a character can be tricky when the creator of a role-play has not given ample information about the world in which it is set, and even if there is enough information about the world it might not be as easy as one might think. Therefore, in this article we will look to another solution. Consider telling a story about your character, rather than just listing prior events in your character’s life; it will most certainly involve important personality traits, significant historical events, and relevant information about your character that tells us who he or she is on a three-dimensional level.
III. Consistency & Authenticity
Be consistent in the parameters that you create for your character—“stick to the script” so to speak. If your character is the “lone wolf”-type, then do not instantly or gradually change into another distinct archetype; this is “character derailment”. Your character should always “grow” and fulfill his “character arc” throughout the story, but if this change is too significant the other participants may not recognize your character. This goes hand-in-hand with your character’s “authenticity”. Make sure that you can justify the parameters that you have created for your character. If the role-play is set in a traditional Western with horses and vintage weapons, then your character should not ride a cow from space or wield plasma-powered pulse canons—unless of course you can justify it somehow. However, in a collaborative writing effort it can appear disrespectful to the creator of the role-play if you venture too far away from the original setting with your character concept.
IV. Threat & Conflict
One of the most important aspects of a character that makes it interesting is the notion of a threat, conflict, threat of conflict, or a threat and a conflict together. Even the most infinite of characters—God—has this basic layout; there is the conflict between good and evil, the threat of losing the conflict, and there was the threat of the Fall of Man. Prior to all of this God was simply a King without an enemy, without a threat or conflict, i.e., there is no story to tell. Whether the threat or conflict is external or internal, it must be the most fundamental part of your character.
V. Character Arc
In a nutshell, the character arc is a change of viewpoint throughout the story. Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and through events in the story that viewpoint changes. For example, Michael Corleone in The Godfather—at first—does not want to have anything to do with his father’s crime business. When his father is attacked and barely survives, Michael begins a war of retribution on those responsible. This development, effectively and ironically, sets him down the path to becoming the head of this father’s crime syndicate. This is a character arc, contrary to character derailment which changes the character’s personality in an illogical manner. However, in a role-play it might be difficult to maintain a character arc as you are not the author of the story. In this case, you can develop a character arc based on your character’s background. A tragic event in your character’s life is a good reference point; then your viewpoint of the world, other people, and the tragedy will change as the story unfolds. It is the creator of the role-play’s duty to make the story consider your individual predicament, and how it can affect all characters down the road.
I. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot.
This rule is difficult to apply; it is frequently hard to decide whether a single word, such as however, or a brief phrase is or is not parenthetic. If the interruption of the flow of the sentence is but slight, the writer may safely omit the commas. But whether the interruption is slight or considerable, never omit one comma and leave the other. There is no defense for such punctuation as
Marjorie’s husband, Colonel Nelson paid us a visit yesterday.
My brother you will be pleased to hear, is now in perfect health.
A name or a title in direct address is parenthetic.
If, sir, you refuse, I cannot predict what will happen.
Well, Susan, this is a fine mess you are in.
Nonrestrictive relative clauses are parenthetic, as are similar clauses introduced by conjunctions indicating time or place. Commas are therefore needed. A nonrestrictive clause is one that does not serve to identify or define the antecedent noun.
The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became more and more interested.
In 1769, when Napoleon was born, Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.
Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a few miles from Bridgewater.
In these sentences, the clauses introduced by which, when, and where are nonrestrictive; they do not limit or define, they merely add something. In the first example, the clause introduced by which does not serve to tell which of several possible audiences is meant; the reader presumably knows that already. The clause adds, parenthetically, a statement supplementing that in the main clause. Each of the three sentences is a combination of two statements that might have been made independently.
The audience was at first indifferent. Later it became more and more interested.
Napoleon was born in 1789. At that time Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.
Restrictive clauses, by contrast, are not parenthetic and are not set off by commas. Thus,
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Here the clause introduced by who does serve to tell which people are meant; the sentence, unlike the sentences above, cannot be split into two independent statements. The same principle of comma use applies to participial phrases and appositives.
People sitting in the rear couldn’t hear. (restrictive)
Uncle Bert, being slightly deaf, moved forward. (nonrestrictive)
My cousin Bob is a talented harpist. (restrictive)
Our oldest daughter, Mary, sings. (nonrestrictive)
II. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.
The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed.
The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape.
Two-part sentences of which the second member is introduced by as (in the sense of “because”), for, or, nor, or while (in the sense of “and at the same time”) likewise require a comma before the conjunction. If a dependent clause, or an introductory phrase requiring to be set off by comma, precedes the second independent clause, no comma is needed after the conjunction.
The situation is perilous, but if we are prepared to act promptly, there is still one chance of escape.
When the subject is the same for both clauses and is expressed only once, a comma is useful if the connective is but. When the connective is and, the comma should be omitted if the relation between the two statements is close or immediate.
I have heard the arguments, but am still unconvinced.
He has had several years’ experience and is thoroughly competent.
III. Do not join independent clauses with a comma.
If two or more clauses grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.
Mary Shelly’s works are entertaining; they are full of engaging ideas.
It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.
It is, of course, equally correct to write each of these as two sentences, replacing the semicolons with periods.
Mary Shelly’s works are entertaining. They are full of engaging ideas.
It is nearly half past five. We cannot reach town before dark.
If a conjunction is inserted, the proper mark is comma.
Mary Shelly’s works are entertaining, for they are full of engaging ideas.
It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach town before dark.
A comparison of the three forms given above will show clearly the advantage of the first. It is, at least in the examples given, better than the second form because it suggests the close relationship between the two statements in a way that the second does not attempt, and better than the third because it is briefer and therefore more forcible. Indeed, this simple method of indicating relationship between statements is one of the most useful devices of composition. The relationship, as above, is commonly one of cause and consequence.
Note that if the second clause is preceded by an adverb, such as accordingly, besides, then, therefore, or thus, and not by a conjunction, the semicolon is still required.
I had never been in the place before; besides, it was dark as a tomb.
An exception to the semicolon rule is worth noting here. A comma is preferable when the clauses are very short and alike in form, or when the tone of the sentence is easy and conversational.
Man proposes, God disposes.
The gates swung apart, the bridge fell, the portcullis was drawn up.
I hardly knew him, he was so changed.
Here today, gone tomorrow.
IV. Be clear
Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principal mark of a good style. There are occasions when obscurity serves a literary yearning, if not literary purpose, and there are writers whose mien is more overcast than clear. But since writing is, and role-playing, is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. Clarity, clarity, clarity! When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through against the terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences. Writing is a craftsmanship, bricks and mortar; the completed work is the art, not the tools you use.
V. Nouns & Verbs
Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensible parts of speech and poetry. In general, however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.
VI. Revise & Rewrite
Revising is part of writing. Few writers are so expert that they can produce what they are after on the first try. Quite often you will discover, on examining the completed work, that there are serious flaws in the arrangement of the material. Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your text ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.
VII. Do not overwrite
Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating. When writing with a computer, you must guard against wordiness. The click and flow of a word processor can be seductive, and you may find yourself adding a few unnecessary words or even a whole passage just to experience the pleasure of running your fingers over the keyboard and watching your words appear on the screen. It is always a good idea to reread your writing later and ruthlessly delete the excess.
VIII. Avoid the use of qualifiers
Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one, and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.
IX. Do not explain too much
It is seldom advisable to tell all. Be sparing in the use of adverbs after “he said” or “she replied” and the like: “he said surprisingly”; “she replied cautiously.” Dialogue heavily weighted with adverbs after the attributive verb is cluttery and annoying.
X. Put statements in positive form
Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion. Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; the reader wishes to be told what is. Hence, as a rule, it is better to express even a negative in positive form.
“He was not very often on time.”——“He usually came late.”
“She did not think studying Latin was much use.” ——“He thought the study of Latin useless.”
“Not honest” ——“Dishonest”
“Not important” ——“Trifling”
“Did not remember” ——“Forgot”
“Did not pay attention to” ——“Ignored”
XI. Use definite, specific, concrete language
Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, and the concrete to the abstract. The surest way to arouse and hold the reader's attention is by being specific, definite, and concrete. The greatest writers Homer, Dante, Shakespeare—are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures; they form a meeting of minds where the reader is as much of an artist as the writer.
“A period of unfavorable weather set in.”——“It rained every day for a week.”
“He showed satisfaction as he took possession of his well-earned reward.”——“He grinned as he pocketed the coin.”
XII. Omit needless words
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should not contain unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that drawings should have no unnecessary lines and machines no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
“he is a man who” ——“he”
“in a hasty manner” ——“hastily”
“this is a subject that” ——“this subject”
“Her story is a strange one” ——“Her story”
The fact that is an especially debilitating expression. It should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs.
“owing to the fact that”——“since (because)”
“in spite of the fact that”——“”though (although)”
“I was unaware of the fact that”——“I was unaware that”
Who is, which, was, and the like are often superfluous.
“His cousin, who is a member of the firm”——“His cousin, a member of the firm”
“Ragnarök, which was Odin’s last battle”——“Ragnarök, Odin’s last battle”