Writing a character, part 1: writing a background

1 maart 2017 Door Alexandra Hofman

This week’s post is the first post in the series ‘how to create a character’. I’ll be focusing on background; skills and I’ll give you some tips about how to build your own race.
This week’s entry I’ll be focusing on background; I’m going to tell you how to write it, how to prevent cliché’s and making your character epic without overdoing it.

Happy reading! Alexjuh

At first, let me explain why I chose to start this sequence with: ‘writing a background’. It happens a lot that people first pick their skills and then write their background, which might seem easier, but it is not. Picking your skills first will limit you when writing your background because you have to figure out and explain how your character got a certain skill. Next to that, skills are a support factor, not the basic when writing a good character. When you’ve written a good background, you won’t need your skills. (And yes, this is possible and I’ve done this. I played a four-day event without using even one of my skills.)

LARP is about role-playing, not about using your skills as often as you can and collection skills points. Make it so, act and play!

Now don’t start right away with writing a background, let’s first pick a race and a job (also called class) for your character. When picking a race and class, keep in mind if it is possible to make and/or buy a costume for this and whether you like make-up or not.

When going to an event with set races, pick one you like and choose your class. Read the information the organisation provides on your chosen race and class. After that you can start on writing a background.

When you’re going to an event that has no set races or classes, you’ll have to think more about a race or class. Most common races are humans, elves, green skins and half-breeds. The races a little bit more uncommon are demons, devils, angels and (partial) animals. This is because the costumes take a lot of work and you serious need to be able to pull this off. And of course there is always the possibility to create your own race. In one of my next entries I’m going to tell more about races and how to create them. For now, just keep it simple. Don’t mix to many races in one character, especially when it is your first event.

Now you have to pick your class. There are a lot of common classes such as warrior; healer/medic; priest; wizard; assassin; craftsman/woman, etc. Choose your class carefully; they will affect your background and your skills. Also be aware of weird combinations such as an assassin-medic or priest-smith. They are possible, but when playing a priest who is fully committed (and all day busy) with religion, it is weird that he is also repairing armour and weapons. If you really like two classes, then make one your job and one your hobby. Don’t put to much effort in the hobby part (costume and skills).

For example: when playing a priest with repairing armours as a hobby, don’t bring along a lot of tools and raw materials. When you’ll have to search for these items in-game, it’ll give you something to do when you are bored and you will make contact with other characters.

Now that you’ve chosen your race and skills we can start on writing a background, one of the hardest parts in LARP.
First of all, think about the common things that will create you character.

  • Name. Make sure to pick a name that fits your character. Elves usually have long names while orcs usually have short and harsh names. Also, keep in mind that with a difficult name everybody will have trouble remembering your name. Keep your first name simple and make potential other names more difficult and long if you’d like that.
  • Age. Make sure your age isn’t too much. Elves can get really old, but when going to an event and exclaiming you are 800 years old, it is weird that you know so little and can do so little. Keep in mind the kind of LARP you play; when going to a medieval LARP keep in mind that people in the Middle Ages didn’t grow as old as we do today.
  • Birthplace. Where is your character born? What did the town or city look like?
  • Religion. What is his or her religion? What does it mean to him/her?
  • Parents and family. Who are your parents, sisters, brothers, etc.? Give them names and jobs to make them more real. Don’t let your parents die in the background; it is one of the most common things in LARP. It is easy to write why you have left a certain place and ended up where you are now, but you’ll be one of many with dead parents and nobody will take interest in that.

Now it is time to give your character characteristics.

  • What are his/her strong qualities?
  • What are his/her flaws?
  • What angers or saddens him/her, or what gives him/her joy?
  • Is he/she afraid of something?

Give your character strong characteristics and morals but remember that you’ll have to explain why your character is who he/she is. In daily life each and every one of us is formed by what happened in our lives and had the influence of your parents, which is also what has happened to your character.

Nobody is perfect, not even your character.

For example: when you play a soldier who is very young, don’t overdo it by making him ‘the best swordsmen in town’. When exclaiming this on an event, you’ll have to make it true and you will probably have to prove yourself, which can end up with failure.

Now it is time to write the history about your characters life.

  • What did he/she grow up with?
  • What did the place look like?
  • Who were his/her friends?
  • What did he/she do with spare-time?

And the last things to write and add:

  • Write why you left your birthplace. There can be one reason but also a number of smaller reasons, but keep it realistic.
  • When going to a LARP with a group, write how you met and who you like and don’t.
  • When joining a group, also write how you got there?
  • Write a problem in your background because it gives you something to search for and talk about at the event. But also because it you gives the storywriters of the event a start for your personal story.

You can write your own background as long or short as you want. You can write it in any style you want, as a story, or as an enumeration or any other way you can think of.

When sending your background to the storywriters of the event, make sure your background fits on one or two pages. Understand that they will have to read everybodys background and not only yours.
When you are having trouble with writing you character, there is below a questionnaire you can download to help you. The questionnaire is made by me, one in english and one in dutch. (It is a Word 2003 document.)

Vragenlijst om je karakter uit te diepen_dutch
Questionnaire for you character_english

To sum things up, when writing your character the most important thing is to not overdo it.

When picking a race, pick just one race because interracial relationships aren’t very common. Most communities keep to themselves and don’t trust others or are even afraid of them.

When playing a halfbreed, pick two races that can be combined. Some breeds just can’t be crossed because it won’t give any offspring. The only race that can almost always have offspring with other races is a human. Most of the times a half breed has one dominant side overraiding the other side.

For example: combing an elf and a human is possible, but one side will take over and the other side will only show faint hints. A half-angel half-demon will give conflicts because one is pure light, the other pure darkness. Also it is really hard to act that out and the costume will even prove to be more of a challenge. Vampirism and lycantrophy are often seen as disseases which makes these races dominant over other races. But they are also unholy creatures which makes it impossible to turn an angel into a vampire; drinking or exchanging blood will most likely kill one of them.

When creating your character’s story you should keep it realistic. When you are born you will have to learn everything, just as in real life. You can be the heir to something, an item or a place, but you will have to prove yourself and fight for it to get it. This will take years and a lot of effort and patience.

As I told before when selecting a class, just pick one and make one a hobby.

Last, don’t combine all of the above, choosing two breeds, two things you are heir to and a class and a hobby. It is to much. You will have to keep track of all those things and you will only end up confused. When you really want a bad-ass and epic character, you will have to work for it at the events because only then people will believe you and your character. Besides, if you are the best in everything and have it all, it will be a boring event because you have nothing to strive or work for.

Good luck with writing and creating. Don’t forget: keep it realistic. Keep it simple. Avoid clichés.

Special mention for this entry: Doomsday General. Thank you for reading the first draft and helping with translation, grammar and filtering out little mistakes.

Next week’s entry: writing a character, part 2: picking your skills.

Click here for the previous post: Getting through the rules of a LARP-event.

Dit artikel is oorspronkelijk gepost op Alexandra’s blog (6 januari 2015) en is opnieuw beschikbaar gesteld voor LARP Platform.

Alexandra is momenteel actief met het organiseren van Dark Union, een unieke bad guy LARP in Nederland. Daarnaast is ze heel creatief meer leerbewerken onder handelsnaam Layers.

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