Tips For Writing & Roleplaying Canon Characters Better
- Many people begin a roleplay with their character milling about aimlessly or doing nothing in particular, as if they don't have jobs or hobbies they would probably be busy with. Try to avoid this. Instead, keep in mind what the character's job is or what xir hobbies are, and what the character might be doing based on those. For example, a scientist will probably spend a considerable amount of time reading scientific journals to keep up with the work of xir peers. Anyone who relies on exceptional strength as part of a job or hobby will probably have to spend a considerable amount of time training. Furthermore, characters who are highly intelligent should have little to no trouble finding something to occupy themselves with.
- Don't recycle the character's best lines ad nauseum. Too often a character delivers a witty one-liner that fans will abuse, misuse, and overuse to death. However, when a 'witty' character keeps repeating that witty one-liner or insult over and over, that character is no longer witty. For example, I've seen Avengers fans make Tony Stark call Loki "Reindeer Games" over and over. (Nothing makes it quite so obvious that the writer is nowhere near as clever as the "real" Tony Stark than parroting his best lines because they can't actually think of anything new.)
- Sometimes a character has to be tweaked a bit to make a story work, but it's particularly jarring when a character has to do a complete 180 or is obviously the writer wearing the character's skin. Please, don't do this. If you're writing or playing a character as changing or having changed alignment or allegiance (eg, going from bad to good or vice versa or joining a new group), please see Changing Alignments, Allegiances, & Loyalties More Believably.
- Before writing a character as a quivering ball of wangst, ask yourself whether this behavior even makes sense given the character's life history or career. It's highly improbable that an experienced spy or a veteran soldier will suddenly start showing extreme symptoms of PTSD over something they've likely been doing for their entire careers - if they really so fragile, they'd have been out of a job long ago.
- If you have only read/watched part of a series, look up the character online to find more information. Just about every form of entertainment out there has fans writing a wiki for it. There is no excuse for anyone writing a Homestuck troll to be unaware of the fact that trolls are very different from humans.
- If there are multiple continuities, keep them straight. I've seen people lift whole chunks of information from Marvel's comics to apply to Loki from the movies and act as if it should be taken as hard-and-fast canon, but there are some pretty huge differences between the movies and comics that make it quite clear that they do not take place in the same universe. Similarly, in the Super Famicom game Sailor Moon: Another Story, the writers mixed up mutually exclusive events from both into a single tangled mess, and the Sailor Moon tabletop RPG did the same thing. There's nothing wrong with going to another source for inspiration, but don't treat it as hard-and-fast canon and be careful not to tangle up mutually-exclusive events.
- Don't gloss over or excuse the character's flaws or misdeeds. You can be sympathetic with the character, but if your character has done something like - ahem - killed eighty people in two days, that's going to have to be accounted for, and "he shouldn't be held accountable because his family mistreated him!" isn't going to cut it.
If you have to assign tastes, interests, and hobbies onto the character, be careful that the interests and such actually make sense and that you're not simply projecting yourself onto the character. For example, I've seen wizards and sorcerers portrayed as enjoying fantasy because they "like to think about what could be." The problem is, most of the things in these fantasy books are a simple fact of life for these characters. Now, there's nothing wrong with a magical character liking fantasy per se - but for a character who has dealt with with spells, elves, and unicorns, these things are going to be no more exotic than pocket calculators, Canadians, and zebras are to the average American. If your sorcerer/wizard takes a shine to Harry Potter, it would likely be for reasons that have nothing to do with the magic or fantastic creatures.
Another example of misprojected interests are characters who are assigned interests that make little sense based on their age - EG, forty-year-olds listening to music, reading books, or watching movies aimed at the demographic of the player/writer without any real justification at all. It's reasonable to assume that someone familiar with Star Trek would be likely to enjoy new science fiction shows, but a man over forty who normally listens to classic rock being depicted listening to contemporary boybands is pretty jarring.
- Check out Telling Story Canon From Personal Bias, Erroneous Memories, & Fanwank for some tips to help you more accurately gauge how a canon character actually behaves compared to misconceptions and misinterpretations about the character's behavior created by unconscious assumptions.
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