Roleplay Flaws and Quirks: Interesting Character Development


Perfection itself is imperfection​

For many of us, character creation takes time, it's something that we find ourselves forever tweaking and perfecting into a manifestation that we like and hope that someone else will like as well. It can be perceived as an art and an escape from the real world.

Nonetheless, when developing fictional characters we all too often fall into a pattern of perfection and whether you choose to believe it or not, we obsessive over our creations to the point they are like our child or even more so, an alter-ego of ourselves. (Whatever, Olivia.) Many may choose to scoff at this and argue that their character is nothing like themselves, nothing like someone they know or nothing like they have imagined to be. Choosing instead to debate that they have created someone purely fictional through the epic momentum of their imagination. Nothing more or less. Which is not entirely true.

Inspiration draws from somewhere. Whether it is a book, a movie, a person at the bus stop, a politician, a work colleague, a family member, an epidemic, a medical condition, a dream - the list of what inspires us can almost go on forever. The problem is, when we look to inspiration we often look only into the aspects that we may be missing from our lives, the aspects surrounding that of how the saying goes "the grass is always greener on the other side." Alternatively, we may be inspired by a negative event or occurrence that not only happened to ourselves, but on a global scale as well. We become so engrossed in these aspects and protective of them, it is to the point that we begin to twist and pull from these educational opportunities or experiences to write the 'perfect' character. We implement the good and the bad traits, yet due to negative experiences, the good more-often-than-not, triumphing every time. Because deep down it is what we want.

How does this factor into character writing, Olivia?

You see, when we attempt to write or suggest that our character has imperfections we don't actually (or forget to) include them in our story telling outside of internal monologue or 'backstory.' We add them simply because the character sheet tells us to, or on a whim because they're not something we've entirely thought about until prompted with the question. When we are, we either do one of two things: create an incredibly balanced sheet but never RP our quirks and weaknesses, OR we write our weaknesses as backhanded strengths. This is usually because we are afraid of what others may perceive, we're afraid that people will view our characters different to how we see them and more commonly, afraid that not our character, but we will lose.

You know what though? It's okay to let go and put these imperfections into play and it is most certainly okay to have them. In fact, it should be encouraged. Without these imperfections you will sooner than not come across a riveting story arch or scene that soon becomes stagnant, or character to character interaction becomes boring and you lose interest. Imperfections are what drive successful personas and story telling. Just as much as - or I dare say, more so than the "perfections." It's what delivers a character that people will enjoy engaging with. It helps to develop fun story telling, delivers inspiration for those you RP with and funnily enough, impacts the environment on levels beyond its initial creation. Believe it or not, it's incredibly fun as well.

Lets look at one of my own personal examples:

One of my most favourite characters ever created was an elderly woman of unknown age and origin. She was a well respected, very prominent member of society and someone you really wouldn't want to cross. She was in charge of the horticultural department and despite having a rather sweet nature, could kill you with a small sip of coffee. Young and aspiring horticulturalists dreamed of being selected to become her pupil and would often go out of their way to win her favour. The problem was, due to old age her hearing had began to fail her and so, whenever you engaged this character it was both amusing and frustrating at the same time. Why? Because she intermittently misheard what you said.

Pupil: "I need to water the plants, where is the watering can?"

Character: "Deary, I don't think the plants would enjoy bread and jam."

Pupil blinks: "No, no. the water -can- "

Character: Oh, I'm sorry cherub, but we are busy. You can speak to Walter later."

Pupil attempts to empathise; "I do not wish to speak to Walter, I'd like to tend to the plants."

<character looks at pupil oddly> "Well, you don't need my permission to do that, the watering can is on the second shelf over there."

Pupil exhales sighingly and walks off to collect said watering can.

<character smiles at pupil blithely> "Such a good student."

Fun but frustrating, right? There is so much room to play with here. Not only for you, but for others as well.

Lets take a look at how many of our fictional inspirations and favourite characters are developed. Remembering that quirks and flaws are vital to not only writing stories, but role-playing as well.

Archetypal Psychology

Carl Gustav Jung was psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is rather well known in the field for his development in, and founding of, analytical psychology. Drawing from Sigmund Freud's theory on psychoanalysis he was the developer of the 'concept art' behind the introverted and extroverted personalities that we are all too familiar with today. During his time, Jung put forward what is known as the 'Jungian archetypes,' a system which suggests that everyone's personalities fall into four major archetypes: the Self, the Persona, the Shadow and the Anima/Animus.

The Persona

This archetype relates to how it is we present ourselves to the world. The word 'persona' is the Latin word for 'mask' a figurative accessory we all wear in order to socially interact within various social situations or to people please.

The Persona tends to influence characters who, during the day are a savvy business man, however in secret, he becomes a vigilante or spy. Alternatively, this may be the character who comes from a well-to-do family, meets a boy or girl, and does not tell them that their family is well off. Choosing instead to play-down on who they actually are (a classic in many teen/YA movies). Many of the most common superheros fall into this category as well; Bruce Wayne/Batman and Peter Parker/Spiderman, are two that come to mind.

The Shadow

Many of us may find that we have personal qualities that we choose to suppress, ignore or outright deny having. This often becomes most apparent when meeting new people or being put into a room full of strangers. Furthermore, these may be elements that we deny having all together - even to ourselves. Especially if they are aspects that may be looked down upon by our peers in society or are afraid of being judged or additionally, afraid that these emotions may harm a family member or someone we have come to care for and so, to protect ourselves from scrutiny we repress these emotions and cast a shadow over parts ourselves.

These types of characters, in writing, tend to be on the darker side and is often where the concept of villains in film, TV and literature are drawn from. Gollum may be viewed as an example of a shadow, for he is the reminder of what Frodo could become if he were to succumb to the Ring. Count Dooku, a Jedi master who left the order to join the Dark Side and of course Cersei Lannister who is an embodiment of what could have gone wrong with numerous women throughout the story. Sansa Stark being the most prominent, whereby they were both sheltered daddy's girls who longed to marry their prince charming however - in doing so - chose miserably and left delusional. Fortunately for Sansa, she wasn't in a miserable marriage for too long and so, she was able to hold onto her kind nature (at least for now.) Ceresi is a shadowy reminder of what she could have (and still may) become.

The Anima/Animus

Anima is in simple terms, is described as feminine aspects of a man's subconscious - a behaviour that a person possesses that is seen by everyone else but he. The Animus, is the masculinity of a women's subconscious. It is believed that we as humans have both masculine and feminine qualities, however, life doesn't always allow us to reveal that and instead we are met with labelled attributes and expectations. For example, a man may be raised to be brave and to protect, despite wishing for nothing more than to be protected. Similarly, a woman may be raised to wear dresses and keep her hands clean, despite wishing to throw on a pair of cargo pants and dig around in the dirt.

These archetypes tend to influence the writing of characters such as the princess who leaves home and becomes a great warrior, or the hero of man who becomes a husband and father. Many Disney princesses are drawn from this category; Cinderella the humble maid, who dreams of falling in love and being whisked away from what she considers hellish, Princess Jasmine who yearns to leave the confinements of her home and see the wider world. Alternatively, we have the modern Ironman who is (of course) a hero to the people, however, now that he is in love, wants to hang up his armour and settle down with Pepper.

The Self

"The Self" is essentially the above all rolled into one. It is a character who, through age and/or enlightenment has become what they believe the unification of both the subconscious and the consciousness. Essentially nailing the ultimate sense of the cohesive self. While this may seem to be the embodiment of internal perfection, alas, it is not. While certainly in life, this is where many may hope to be it is in essence incredibly boring to write once this status has been reached and even the most iconic characters that fall into this category, have fallen to inflated egos.

Notible fictional characters who fall into this category include Yoda and Gandalf the Grey.

Yes, this theory is taken from the real world and crosses over between it and fiction, but that's also okay because in fantasy, it is where the fun begins. In a fictional world with a fictional character we don't have to have these fears or desires that occupy out head-space in the real world, because it isn't real. We can indulge in almost whatever quirks we want to because it's not like it will impact our personal lives. (Or it shouldn't, by any means.)

To expand on the above, Jung also developed the 12 Archetypes which are symbolic to human motivations:


Instead of delving into an explanation of these, I am going to instead direct you to this wonderful little snippet to peruse. Heck, even bookmark it, it's nice and simple and a good reference to go to when attempting to write up a character. It includes possible fears, flaws and weaknesses. I also implore you to ask questions, express any uncertainties of understanding and discuss these theories with each other as well.

This is all incredibly fascinating Olivia, but do you really expect me to remember all of this when all I want to do is write a character? Are you a slave driver? What the heck do you want from me?!

Of course not. No one expects a writer to be educated in Psychology, that would be ridiculous. But I would like to point out that knowing the archetype of your character will help you to develop a compelling individual because that are a blueprint for characters that we can draw on. There are ample resources and annotations on archetypal characteristics and you don't need to be an expert to comprehend it. These help you to understand what your characters are afraid of, what motivates them and how those around them, may view them. Taking it into consideration will help you to not become stagnant and more importantly, it will help you during those ever annoying writer-block moments. In fact, I challenge you to find me a character that does not fall into one of these archetypes. You're going to be hard pressed to. Why? Because no doubt, every writer who has created a fictional being that you adore has at one point or another, taken personality archetypes into consideration. It's how they deliver imagination and inspiration to their readers or viewers.

In conclusion, one of the strongest things to take away from this is to remember that our Characters are not us. It is not you or I arguing with the President's mistress, it is your character. They are instead a tool brought to the table to share with a community of like-minded individuals who like a good story as much as the next guy. I also understand to that this approach and perspective may not be for everyone, however, I do hope that it has given you something to think about when editing or creating your next character. I hope that it can inspire you to let go and come to embrace imperfections as something positive and come to learn that they only bring enjoyment to the stage. They can be fun, they can be quirky, they can be downright conflict starters. Whatever they are, they enrich the role-play experience.