Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Three dimensions of character (Part 1) - Physiological

The Three dimensions of character (Part 1)

A common criticism that gets thrown around about characters is that they are two dimensional, implying that they lack depth; all surface and no substance, all sizzle no steak, etc. If you have studied writing you may also know this means that the character lacks one or more of the three dimension of characterization; physiological, sociological, and psychological. As a gamer these dimensions might sound more familiar in the context of Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma, and they will definitely serve as a starting point, but as we all know a character sheet hardly a character make. So, let’s take a gander at how we can utilize these dimensions to generate a well-rounded character background.


This is the most surface of the three dimensions. Physiological elements are things like eye and hair color, his race, or even that scar he received from the Orc Chieftain who killed his parents, and now serves as a reminder of his oath of blood vengeance against all Orckind; you know stuff like that .

Physiological elements are important to a well-rounded character. They are the very first impression when we meet someone for the first time. Now, I know what you’re saying(‘cause I’m watching you through your webcam), “I never judge a book by its cover, because judging people by their appearance is wrong, we are all onions…blah blah blah”, yeah, we’ve all seen Shrek, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you have a giant pulsating boil on your eye and reek of old cheese and shame, a normal human is going to generate an immediate opinion about you before you say one word.

So take a minute, close your eyes and picture your character. What does he looks like, what’s he wearing, does he have any distinguishing marks.  Imagine you are describing him to a police sketch artist, try to go beyond the basics, think about what your character's features say about him? What trappings are associated with his profession, his upbringing, hobbies, etc?  What distinguishes your character from the masses roaming the streets of the city?

Remember to keep it brief. If no one wanted to read your 300 page novel about your character's struggles before he reache level one, they definitely won't sit through a rambling diatribe about each one of your characters nose hair.  Use strong adjectives, simile, and metaphor to paint a picture in the mind of the listener. Get a thesaurus, or find one online, in most cases one word can do the job of three, or four.

Of course in lieu of all this writing nonsense you could always draw your character, find an image on the web that resembles your character, or even decide who would play the character in a movie. In fact, this is a great way to find inspiration for your character, with the abundance of art work at our finger tips, thanks to the internet, you would be hard press not to stumble across a picture that conjures up a compelling character.

So, let’s get the ball rolling, here is a list of questions you can use to flesh out the physiology of your character:

·         What is his/her:
o        hair color?
o        eye color?
o        skin tone ?
·         Is your character:
o         short or tall?
o         Ectomorphic(skinny), mesomorphic(average), or endomorphic(stocky)?
o        muscular, or scrawny?
·         Does your character have any distinguishing marks? (tattoos, wrinkles, mustache, scars, piercings, scales, etc)
·         What does your character smell like? (old garbage, fresh soap, pungent perfumes, etc.)
·         How does your character sound?
·         Does the character resemble someone, or something?
·         If this was a movie who would you cast to play your character?

So now that we’ve started to piece together what our character looks like we need to move on to the next aspect of characterization and that is the Sociological.

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