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Tim Schafer

Writing Update 5: Creating Characters

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Super interesting stuff!

A thought: Would it be possible to use Twine to create character profiles like these, with links for relationships (family, friends, enemies) and shared attributes? I'm not really familiar with the software so I don't know how well suited it would be to the task, but from what I've seen it seems like it could work... in the absence of a more user friendly dedicated tool for building character profiles.

Alternatively: genealogy software

I've used Twine a few times and it could be used to link between pages so that you could, say click on a parent or spouse's name to view their sheet - but there's no inherent advantage that I see.

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Thanks Tim for this insightful post. You took time out of your day to help us. I appreciate that.

I have used this for one of my characters and it works so well to draw off your own life. Thanks again!

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Great update Tim. I was really interested in your writing process. I have a really in-depth character interview that I use for my main characters, but nothing really for everyone else. I will start using your questions as a quick way of fleshing out my more minor characters from now on.

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Awesome post Tim! Really, thank you for sharing, I found it very inspirational and I'm definitely going to steal those ideas. Characters, and by extension dialogue, for me is the hardest thing to do. Give me a location to describe and I'm your man, but characters? Whoo!

Just wanted to ask though, what is the significance of the row marked Left-Brain/Right-Brain?

I presume Left Brain means creative, or something and Right Brain means logical, or something like that.

Is there an example of incorporating that into your character or is it just one of those little details for yourself?

Cheers,

Manny

P.S. Once again awesome post!

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Just wanted to ask though, what is the significance of the row marked Left-Brain/Right-Brain?

I presume Left Brain means creative, or something and Right Brain means logical, or something like that.

Is there an example of incorporating that into your character or is it just one of those little details for yourself?

I'd say it would change the way a character approaches a problem. Logically or in a more abstract/creative sense. :)

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I've read a lot of people's "basic rules for creating characters", and this one is way more helpful and useful than most. Organizing the traits & details like this helps bring attention to underdeveloped or predictable aspects that need work. Thanks, Tim!

Considering your comments about people liking your character more if you mention they're attractive, I'd be interested to see how much difference it would make if you phrased it differently to people. After all, Attractive and Repulsive are relative terms unless you specify "conventionally physically attractive/repulsive". They often refer to a character's manner, behavior and style, so naturally people would find someone more appealing if they're attractive in general. You might find people more open-minded if you said "pretty or ugly" instead.

That aside, here's a character from a comic I'm working on!

IDENTITY

Name: Tessie Molkus

Age: 28

Gender: Female

Nationality/Ethnicity: English

Parents: Father is a distributor for a company that makes trash cans; mother is an editor for a successful regional newspaper. Tessie currently lives in their basement, due more to apathy than financial hardship.

Siblings: An older brother, finding work as an actor.

Significant Others: Carl, a composer. He is one in a long string of boyfriends, but he has managed to stick longer than most.

Occupation: Manager of a post office.

Location: Factory district of a mysterious, heavily-militarized city.

Religion: Agnostic, likes to believe all mythologies are partially true and can be combined like a jigsaw.

Class: Has a lower-middle-class lifestyle but thanks to her parents she is upper-middle.

Marital Status: Single

Education: Graduated high school; half a semester of state college.

PHYSICAL

Fat/Skinny: Fat

Tall/Short: Short

Strong/Weak: Weak

Hair Color/Style: Long, rather greasy blonde hair.

Style of Dress: A hodgepodge of whatever was convenient that morning--an ill-fitting bright-blue long-sleeve shirt over a purple t-shirt; slacks; pink boots.

Attractive/Repulsive: Mildly repulsive.

Unusual characteristics / markings / disabilities: Wide face, glassy eyes, short stubby legs, almost no sense of smell.

BEHAVIOR

Speech (accent/pitch/dialog tags): Chirpy and fast-paced, with a slight Scouse accent.

Temperament (cheerful/grumpy): Cheerful

Social Skills: Friendly and talkative, but boorish and obnoxious.

Ambitions / Desires: To enjoy high living until parents' money runs out. Perhaps also to become a great artist or poet, but she'd rather not bother with the commitment.

Fears / Hates: The thought of growing old, peppermint, wide open spaces, being ignored, responsibility.

Hobbies / Obsessions: Being an expert on useless, esoteric subjects or styles (in music, philosophy, food, etc). Shopping at thrift stores. Breaking things and occasionally making junk art from them. Dropping rocks on cars from overpasses.

Special Talents: Has a wide array of interesting esoteric knowledge, but doesn't retain much since she's constantly seeking a new gimmick with which to impress people.

Self Image: A wild and crazy fun person whom uptight people could learn from.

Emotional Baggage: Accidentally burned down family's house as a child, spent much time in hospital mostly because of stupid attention-getting stunts and substance abuse, went to anarchist meetings for a while (before becoming bored with them) and got involved in riots and police raids.

Secrets: Tessie cannot keep secrets and opens up to anyone, no matter how personal or dark the subject.

Smoke / Drink: She is alcoholic and experiments with home-brewed concoctions for both drinking and smoking; she has never successfully gotten high in her life but has attempted many times.

Self-destructive / defeating: Pretty much her whole lifestyle.

Mannerisms: Drinks much of the time; favors "cute" humor and gimmicky catchphrases.

Intelligence: Low. Technically she's booksmart about useless things to make her look cool, but that's the limit of her intellect.

Strong / Weak: Weak

Leader / Follower: She leads conversations and likes a captive audience, but she has no direction. She's too self-absorbed (and has too short an attention span) to be a follower. She holds a managerial job through luck and confidence rather than skill.

Mean / Kind: Usually easygoing and kind, but she can be cruel, often just for kicks.

Right / Left brained: Left-brained.

Brave / Fearful: Her life is dominated by her fear of responsibility, but she refuses to acknowledge or directly face that fear.

Graceful / Clumsy: Clumsy.

Seeks attention / isolation: Attention.

Funny / serious: Funny.

Mellow / energetic: Energetic, but still a physically sluggish person.

Humble / arrogant: Arrogant.

Obedient / Rebellious: Rebellious, but not in any calculated way.

Favorite music: Experimental noise bands, the more obscure and distantly-foreign the better.

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I remember when I finished Psychonauts and I was scouring the internet for more information about the game. I came across people discussing the fact that the Camper's had their own Myspace pages. I'm very glad to see that all of that has been preserved in the Campster version shared here.

I thought that was such a neat way to figure out who the characters were and what they were about. I mean who would have thought that such time and effort would be put into creating the personality of them all. But in the game it showed. They were all individuals and they all had their own motivations, fears, and feelings about people or things. I actually wanted to talk to them all during the course of the game and see what was happening with them. It was never required to go back and talk to talk them after events occurred, or even to interact with many of them period. But they added so much life and character to things, that I found it so very fun to do so. And to to have them all respond differently when shown objects or have powers and such used on them was mind blowing to me as well. Again it added that layer of depth and enjoyment to things. Where as many games may have NPC's that just don't get that same response from me.

It's wonderful to see such creative people on here sharing their versions of Identity Charts too. With so many creative people out there, I have hope we will see more wonderfully inventive things in the future.

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Hahah the psychonauts campster profiles were hilarious. It's a great method and you can definitely see that work come through in all your games. It's really been great seeing these different methods that you guys use and I can definitely say that it has helped improve my work. Right after I saw the first couple 2PP videos I went out, picked up a notebook, slapped some old skateboarding stickers on it and just began writing. About ten pages later I had some really great ideas down for our senior project which was like ten times more ideas than I previously had. I love what you guys are doing, It's been a real pleasure.

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@Tim: Awesome lesson! And I can't believe I never read through all the kids profiles. So happy they've now been immortalized on Campster!

Now I shall put your advice to good use and create a story about a 23 year old male barista from Idaho guided by the wisdom imparted to him from a talking boil on his neck. :D

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Hi Tim,

Was just wondering how you come up with names for people, places and stuff. Or what's a good daily habit I can get into so as not to be bogged down.

At the moment I'm writing and I'm thinking: "Geez I have to give this guy a name and call this country something, and that city something else!"

It's kind of daunting, I've done a few slogs and come up with some half decent stuff, but wanted to know if you had something up your sleeve for naming, like your awesome character sheets.

Cheers,

Manny

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Awesome post Tim. Thanks for sharing how you go about writing a character and giving some examples from the games. It would be great to see these character sheets for all of the characters included with the bonus material for Broken Age.

I am loving all of the detailed information you guys are sharing with us as backers. This is way better and way more than I thought we would get. Keep it up!

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Love this stuff. It's only when you reflect on great stories and fiction that you think "Of course those characters have detailed backgrounds". But when you sit down to create them, the tendency is to give them just enough depth for their exposure on screen, which makes them wooden, predictable and stereotypical.

Thanks for sharing some off the magic in your process, Tim.

[forum poster] [on the internet] [learning the hidden magic of creative writing]

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Thanks for this truly great post Tim. I think your approach to giving even incidental characters depth can really differentiate a good game from a great game, simply by giving the player a sense of immersion, like "this is a living, breathing place".

I'm reminded of some thoroughly enjoyable adventure games that were awesome in their own right but didn't have quite as much heart as games like Psychonauts. For example, I loooove Machinarium but I really prefer protagonists who are less of a blank slate (not that the main robot is completely blank, but you get what I mean). By the same token, Sam & Max were super entertaining and funny but not really relatable because their characters are basically comedians that don't change markedly throughout the game.

Tim, if you could in your next writing update, please give the backers some insight into how you move from a character (as defined by stable traits) to a character arc. The perspective I think would be most interesting would be that of a (creative) director who decides what character development occurs, when, and how. That may not be a "writing" update strictly speaking, but it'd be awesome all the same :)

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