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.