I’m currently reading The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television by Julian Friedmann and Christopher Walker. On the whole it’s a very good book and although it has a few small things I didn’t like, the good parts far outweigh the few minor poor parts.
I’m in a section on Character Building and the authors mention that Tony Jordan, who has a number of excellent TV credits, concentrates on three things about the characters he creates. The first is to think of something they would always do; the second, something they would never do; and the third is a paradox in their behaviour, attitudes or situation.
I’ve never been a real fan of creating long lists of characteristics, likes and dislikes, tastes and backstory, so this struck me as a great starting point for character development. The paradox aspect, or characters with contradictions, is particularly important because this gives characters depth.
One thing that struck me, which has nothing to do with television, is how difficult it is to develop character contradictions – and therefore character depth – for games. So many characters do little more than react to the action taking place in the environments and on the few occasions where the main character is given such depth the other characters are likely to fall down.
The issue we face, of course, is how we give the best character and story experience to the player without disrupting the flow of the gameplay. There are times that we have to realise we cannot give the depth of The Killing in a high action title or fun platformer, but that shouldn’t stop us from putting in the best characters we can, even if we don’t get the opportunity to show off every aspect of those characters. As creators we should always know far more about our characters than the audience because we never know when we might get the opportunity to reveal their true depth.
So create the rich characters with contradictions because you may get the chance for them to shine in your games in unexpected ways. Sometimes those ways may be subtle and may only be picked up by a small percentage of players, but if the richness is there you can take pride in a job well done.