Listening to: Hyrule Field – Toru Minegishi, Asuka Ota, Koji Kondo (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess OST)
The end of the Spring 2015 anime season is coming up fast, and with it the necessity for me to write reviews for each of the three shows I’ve been following. (Well, not necessity, but whatever.) In the meantime, though, I’ve got a bit more insight into how I, as a writer, can speedily create, and subsequently develop, characters. This is by no means an exhaustive guide–I’m sure that there are dozens more categories that it would benefit from having–but it does, at least, provide a framework that you as a writer can build upon.
Theory: The Baseline Character
When creating characters, the first thing you need–even before their name–is their purpose. A character without purpose is gratuitous, extraneous, unnecessary, and more words to a similar effect. The character’s purpose can be simple, such as a messenger with important news; or complex, such as a mentor or rival. The character’s purpose will determine what their role in the story will be at the point of their introduction. That’s not to say that a character’s purpose can’t change: a mentor can become a villain, or a rival can become a reluctant ally. However, these changes must be motivated by actions that the characters themselves have taken–hence the next step.
Determining the character’s goals is the next step along the line. What do they want in life? Why do they want it? Is the mentor training the protagonist because they used to be a teacher and it’s what they do, or are they doing it in order to make up for past mistakes or to exact revenge on a foe? A character’s goals tell you a lot about them. A character’s goals also justify their actions throughout the work. The rival could be at odds with the protagonists at one point and working together with them the next. If their goals are unclear, then this plot is murky and unsatisfying. If their motivation is clear, however, this progression of events could be seen as completely logical.
Once your character has a purpose and goals (and, okay, probably also a name), it’s time to determine their personality. Initially, you want to keep this as basic as possible, something that can be defined in a few words. “Excessively serious,” “fun-loving,” “studious and introverted,” and “slightly unhinged” are all equally good starting points. This will give you a broad view from which to begin developing the character, as well as giving you a base for role-playing them. The character’s personality will also give you a lot of insight into how they go about achieving their goals. A playful mentor who enjoys pranks will have a much different teacher-student relationship than a severe one who believes humor to be the province of fools.
Those three attributes mark the “baseline” for what characters absolutely need, in my opinion anyhow. In works where character development takes a background seat to action and excitement, you won’t need much more than this. However, there’s still quite a ways to go…