Characters 101

Character Improvement: Finding the Reason Why

The difference between a good character and a great character can be many things. Sometimes it’s their style and abilities, other times it’s their background. But I’ve found that the thing that makes a character extraordinary is their reason why.

A character can have many reasons for the way they act and the way they do things. More often than not, these reasons get lost in the superficial exterior of the character. The swordsman fights because that is what he is good at. The thief steals because she’s a rogue. The wizard likes books because all wizards like books after all.

These reasons are acceptable but by going a little further you get something better. Adding a reason why to their characteristics makes them more real, turning a simple character into an exceptional one.

The Swordsman fights because he wants to change the world and it is the blade in which his talent rests. He’d prefer to sway people with words and politics but his words have always failed. His blade never has.

Thievery was what challenged her and she wanted to be the best. Sure, she had tried her hands at being normal, with a job and all that. But it did not scratch that itch to excel. Each job was a challenge that pushed her skills to the limits━the way she liked it.

The wizard collected books. Great tomes, dusty scrolls, portfolios filled with lore. Everyone knew that they’d buy any book and go to great lengths to hunt them down should any rumor emerge about some lost codex buried in a dungeon. The wizard would always be looking for books. After all, how else would they find that last installment of “The Dragons Sweet Embrace.” It was not like it was still in print, the writer had died over a thousand years ago.

By spending a few moments thinking about the reason behind a character’s traits, you can enhance the character. Turning a simple fighter into a haunted and exasperated blade master. A city thief can become a challenge-seeking cat burglar. A dusty wizard will be transformed into a historical romance-loving spell caster.

Don’t those sound like much better characters?

When used for a background character or NPC (Non-player character), it will take what would have been a forgettable role and transform it into a memorable experience.

I’ve seen many characters made with prominent traits. Aspects that stand out about them. Often when I pressed to why a character had been giving these great details, there was no reason beyond “because” or “I thought it’d be cool.” It was a missed opportunity.

A recent example I encountered was a character that “never says goodbye.” Which is a strong personality cornerstone. But there was no reason for it. By taking a few minutes and expanding it to:

They never say goodbye because their family was killed with those words unspoken. If they could not say goodbye to the ones they loved the most, then they would never say goodbye to anyone else.

The addition of the reason why made a great foundation to build the character upon.

By expanding upon your characters mannerisms, traits, and aspects with reasons why they have them, you’ll end up with a better, more engaging character.

Every aspect of a character can be expanded by adding a ‘why’ to it. Take a look at the traits and defining characteristics you give a character and then give those a reason. If you give all these standout aspects interesting reasons why they have them, you’ll have a flushed out and engaging character in moments.

So, tell me your characters reasons why in the comments.

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9 thoughts on “Character Improvement: Finding the Reason Why”

  1. My character Riada: she fears death, simply because she does not know, she fights to live, as of right now, only in hopes that she will one day.

  2. Because he loved her.

    Its kinda funny now that I look back, but every crazy, foolhardy risk he took, was because he loved her.

  3. I would say my characters “weak” characteristics are very much motivated by her past and her “heroic” ones are insired by a possible future. I mentally fast-talk myself through good meta when I try to decide how to react to things or what to do.
    Broadly- she has a lot of guilt, anger, and uncertainty but wants to look confident/powerful so people don’t think/know she’s weak. She’s a fish out of water in the society the game takes place in- so I try to keep that in mind during my interactions with players who clearly would be more comfortable in the setting. Maybe she hasn’t heard of a certain festival, or maybe the meaning of a word to her is quite different? You offer her water or tea she’ll extend cupped hands gratefully. It’s a balance of playing a character not only motivated by their past but completely shaped by it. I am striving to avoid playing “Me Tarzan” for the sake of my sanity and other people’s tolerance of my character but I want the differences to be clear. I am hopeful this is the case but I’m not playing with me so who knows. Striving to not be annoying but playing your character the way that makes sense given their background haha.
    My character practices ancestor worship so when she comes to a mental crossroads she often considers if what she is doing would be something, someone, someday might deem worthy of acclaim and worship. Her culture is intense and values strength bar none. Her internal struggle and motivations stem from that very basic basis.
    I’ve built in SO MANY ticks and preferences for this character the specicifcs of with are more fun to find out in game (I know people who play in this referenced characters game read your blog! Haha). Her too many teeth bared- uncomfortable smile. Her ominous rope braiding crafting. Why is she carrying that particular item? The clothing she wears? The weapon she wields? Who is that corpse she is dragging everywhere? You know. Things more fun with a reason.
    In anycase I totally agree that the “why” factor makes for the fleshyist of characters and frankly make for the smoothest improv when you’re larping. Digging your insights from story and player! Keep them coming!

    1. ” I am hopeful this is the case but I’m not playing with me so who knows.”

      It absolutely is. Mieletassa feels very protective of her, like she’s a lost child in the new world, but OOC I really love watching all the assorted quirks and foibles you’ve given her!

  4. I want to see what Desderada’s main “Why?” Is, granted in game of course, but I’m trying to rationalize it, and I have too many end conclusions.

    Also: Chota: “I sing because it’s the one thing that made Momma and Papa happy when the other kids left”

    Aravar: “I defend my house and family, because I will not lose them like I lost Kaeir, I won’t allow it.”

  5. Both of my active characters started with very simple “Why”s. Mieletassa had a deep seated fear and loathing of the Abyss, and wanted to avoid returning to it at all costs. This hasn’t gone away, but she has developed other/greater Whys over the course of gameplay that have made her willing to face her greatest fear in order to ensure that something worse doesn’t occur.

    Tsura Layla’s quirks and tics are pretty much all one of two things: religious oaths (no drinking alcohol, for example) or side effects of her racial stress instigated PTSD (freezing when faced with nobles, etc.) She was starting to work through the second type, but then Tethra left, so she’s back to square one with those.

  6. Lady Judith was raised to be a good daughter and wife and to quietly manage the family holdings when the Knights in the family were away doing their Baron’s bidding. But she herself swore oaths to her Baron after her Father’s seasonal illness worsened with the intent of quickly achieving knighthood and proving her worth as the future Baronet of the family lands – hoping that by being an adventurer she could quickly gain a reputation that would support her hopeful claim to her Father’s seat. But the last year has changed her and she has seen the actions of other “heroes” and adventurers across the kingdom and the impact that can be made by a small and determined few. She has become a Knight, rather than acting as one. She has been to war and seen the works of the Gods first hand.

    Becoming the Baronet is no longer enough for her. She feels the need to make a difference and be a force for good amongst the bubbling politics of her county. The safety of her people has become the driving force behind her actions, decisions taken to attempt to lessen wasteful loss of life of the common men who look to the nobility for their protection. She has become the candidate her Father would put before his Baron as his successor,

    1. Those are some excellent reasons why! and in very good prose. Lady Judith sounds like she has a remarkable story before her. Her actions are driven by her love of her people and the need to protect them. That should take her interesting places. Using the reason why for character motivation is a great combination that leads to very geninue characters.

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