Now that you know what your character looks like, and you have an idea in mind for their flaws and virtues and who that makes them as a person. We are going to talk about your character descriptions. These are used in several add-on’s that 98% of all roleplayers will have to make RP that bit smoother and easier. They allow you to write a description of your character that folks can see within the game. It is not mandatory; that is, you can indeed role-play without any kind of description, or you can have this description on a profile outside the game if you like. Most role-play realms have a wiki or an external hub for their RP community; on Argent Dawn we have the Archives at www.argentarchives.org. That said I would strongly advise against it: having one of these add-on’s is like having your curtains open in the Red Light District. Without it, people will assume you’re a raider and move along.
From The Ground Up (FTGU) is a series of posts based around character creation and roleplay, building from the ground up, obviously. In this post we’re going to talk about your characters story and their development and how to do that. But if you have missed any parts this far you can catch up with them here:
Choose your Weapon (or Platform, you know, whatever)
MRP is my personal favourite, though they all communicate with each other; so you can choose whichever one appeals to you most and you won’t be at a disadvantage. They are very small and don’t tend to cause problems with lag or frame rates – not that I have ever heard mentioned anyways.
This one is the most basic and lightest in terms of appearance, very straightforward with only a few boxes to fill in.
The middle ground, a nice amount of information about the character without being overwhelming, it tells you what you need to know and does all it should.
I find this one too clunky; it has a LOT going on and offers you a million different functions and extra little bits of this and that. I might mess around with in in a video someday, and I did have it once, but honestly I find it too heavy to be functional. A lot of the stuff within it is entirely unnecessary.
I will go into add-on’s in general and other RP useful add-on’s in particular during a later post, but for now we’ll stick with this one – the bread and butter of RP. Before we get into it I want to first explain why we use the tool, and how to use it best. I will also drop a list of do’s and don’t’s before we get to the meat and veg of making these things which is the structure and content, obviously enough.
How do you greet a beggar compared to a Knight? How do you react to someone who is taller than you, or shorter? Do your reactions change if the person you are dealing with changes: powerful or powerless; rich or poor; well-dressed or rag-clad? Chances are, it does and it should. This add-on allows us to make the most of these most basic of aspects. It allows us to react correctly to other characters right from the start, and also find characters that look interesting to RP with, and vice versa.
This is a good point to keep in mind for writing your own character description. What message are you trying to get across? What theme and atmosphere are you trying to sell? What are other people seeing when they read your character profile? How is it making them perceive your character and is it making them interested in role-playing with you?
1. Don’t force observations. ‘The first thing you will notice’, ‘You will feel’, ‘You will find X attractive’. Just don’t do it. There is no place in an MRP description for the word ‘you’. None. You can tell them what is there, you cannot tell them what they see, how they see it or what they think about it.
2. Do mix up your sentence starters. That is to say, don’t always start every new sentence with “The man is/was/appears”, “This Man is/was/appears”, “His/He is/was/appears” and the like. It’s very dull and gets lifeless and repetitive. For example, on my paladin I have, in series; “Alyxandria is tall-,” “Her visage has-,” “Long, tousled-“, “She moves-“,” A Knight of-“, “Worn with it is-“. It is not perfect but it mixes it up a little.
3. Don’t use too many descriptive words. ‘Her energetic, enigmatic and alluring, wide emerald eyes are…’’ That was five descriptors – and far too many. It overwhelms and they become redundant; two or less is key. In terms of eyes specifically, I tend to opt for one that describes the eyes and one that describes their emotion, as they are the windows to the soul and all that.
4. Don’t be vague. ‘Seems to have been injured a lot in his life’, ‘It is possible’, ‘She might’. Be direct. I am fairly sure in nine cases of out ten there is no need for the additional word/words that only weakens and lessens your point. It is or isn’t in terms of description: if you are having to use “seems”, chances are you don’t need to include that part of the description. I’m not saying to outlaw the word, just be aware and careful of its use.
5. Don’t over-complicate things. This means describing unnecessary items in great detail; like clothes and armour, or noting the position of every blade on your person. If it takes more than a line or two, you likely need to reconsider the character. Aim for giving an impression of your character over detailed descriptions: well-made and practical, elegant and classy, sturdy and well worn. Each gives you more sense of the character as a person than it would by taking a paragraph to outline it all in detail. That said there is room for specific details when it is interesting and relevant to character hooks. This also applies to your prose, there is no need for overly flowery or ‘purple prose’ in your character description, it is, at the end of the day, a -tool-, and if it becomes to flamboyant or arduous then it turns people away from reading it, and your tool is going to waste.
6. Do leave the mystery. If you want to highlight a specific detail, such as a special weapon, don’t tell them the name or where you got it. Leave these details to come out in RP. Maybe they have some interesting jewelry you describe, but don’t say from where it came or why it is important. These are instant RP hooks, if you tell people the full story, even OOC they will be far less inclined to ask about it IC. So note that it is there, note the appearance of it or anything off or odd about it, stir up the questions, but don’t answer them.
Structuring Your Character Description
A lot of people rave about how shorter is better in terms of descriptions. I can see where they are coming from, but I think that is an incorrect way to go about it. Word count doesn’t really play into the usefulness of a profile except in the extreme. One or two lines is not enough, by the same measure a short story is going to be too long for anyone to digest swiftly enough to be functional in passing RP. Concise and with a clear point and flow is what you are aiming for, rather than a word limit. In all honestly, I know I personally will generally not give a character profile of two or three lines much thought, because it is clear the player has not given it much thought. That said, if I have to scroll more than once, I will bail just as fast, because I know you’re going to be telling me his life story in the description and ergo remove any need for me to RP with you. The key is finding balance. Somewhere between two to three short paragraphs, which is another thing; paragraphs! Break that beast up. If you crit someone with a massive wall o’ text, they won’t try and climb it. End of story. Bite-size chunks are the way to go.
When I say concise and to the point, what I mean is your mantra should be “simple is better.” This is a character description. You want it to be attractive and elegant, yes, but understated: keep the purple prose and flowery accenting for your stories and fictions. Don’t over-complicate things, don’t use overly complex descriptive words and don’t repeat words or yourself too often. Give your reader some credit: I know you want them to note that your character has a certain shape necklace, but you only need to mention it once. If you keep coming back to it, you’ll put people off.
So what goes into this neatly lined and divided up little box? This is where your character profile differs from your appearance, which we talked about last time. Not everything needs to be noted and nothing needs to be explained. This is the key to remember: questions need to get asked during RP, so don’t answer them all before you start. Those answers and reasons we went over in Appearances, those are for YOU to know and everyone else to find out IC. Your Flag/MRP/TRP is a sales pitch. Think of it like a personals advertisement: you need to sell your character to the reader, to catch their attention and win their interest, or that is where you should be aiming, at least. A static, straightforward description will serve the purpose perfectly well, but if you throw in some subtle hooks and a tiny sprinkle of intrigue, you can make people want to get involved with your character on their own accord.
So take a step back from your already thought out appearance and think about the things you want to showcase. The highlights. These are the things that make your character unique and interesting. Avoid using “average,” that word is associated with all that is bland so deeply that it almost ceases to exist. Don’t waste words telling us what makes your character normal: normal is assumed. Tell us what makes him or her unique. Got a few things in mind? Good.
I always start top to bottom and work downwards. Some people ‘Zoom In’ and start with an overall view working inwards to focus on specific details. Both have their merits as both follow basic rules of sight: you usually look top down and you’ll usually notice more obvious things first. Zooming in is describing figure, build, gait, or mannerisms first, then armour, clothes and weapons, then facial details, and so forth. It also stops your writing bouncing around too much and getting confusing. Not yet sure of where to start or how to pull it all together? Make a list.
The Basics: Height, weight, figure/build, and skin/hair/eye colour.
The Details: Facial hair, hairstyle, weapons, armour, clothes, scars, tattoos and markings, notable features.
The Character: Movement, expressions, attitude, manner, scent, voice.
Pull all that together into three concise and elegant paragraphs, keeping in mind the tips and pointers suggested above, and you should have a very characterful, interesting and serviceable character description. That is all I have for you today folks, if you found this guide useful please let me know or share it around to anyone else that might have use of it.
If you have any farther questions or comments or even disagreement drop me a line! I’d be happy to hear from you.