I’ve probably said it a bunch of times already, but making compelling characters is pretty tough for me. Being more of a plotter, I worry a lot about how the story will go rather than what makes up the story. So, I’ve been reading up on how to make better characters, and just recently, I got help in character development from a very unlikely source: a video game.
So I was playing Soul Calibur 3 . And one of the features I really like about it is that you can create your own character, as shown by the picture above. You could choose their fighting style, their voice, their hair, their clothes, etc. Flash forward to now, and I’m working on a novel, and struggling to make one of my characters—we’ll call him Bob for now—fit in the rewrite. I originally had Bob as a thief, but now that I’ve decided a different character will sort of fulfill his role in the plot, I wondered if he could fit in the story at all. So I decided to make Bob in the Soul Calibur 3 character creator, and instead of making him the thief class in the game, I thought, “Eh, what if he was a pirate? Why don’t we do that? Let’s make him a pirate—give him pirate weapons and pirate clothes and all that.”
And then, something just clicked.
All this time I’d picture him with the clothes and mentality of a thief, but seeing my character in a different outfit and different occupation than what I originally conceived for him allowed me make his narrative far more compelling than what I intended for him.
Now, I’m not saying that you all should buy a copy of Soul Calibur 3 (unless video games is your thing, to which I would say, go out and get it) and start messing around in the character creator. Nor am I telling you to go out and find a character creator online (there are tons out there). Using any kind of generator might stifle your ability to come up with ideas on your own.
However, I do think that there are times and places to use generators: when you’re struggling with a character or story idea. Using character generators or story generators might help you look at things from an entirely new way and help you get out of that block. You might go, “Huh… Maybe I could use apples more in my story,” or “Hmm… what would happen if I put my character in a business interview or a sci-fi restaurant?”
Creativity is not about static thinking. It’s all about divergent thinking—branching out and exploring possibilities. Creativity is movement. Playing “what-if” is a great way to test new waters and find new creative paths. And one of the ways you can do it is by playing dress-up with your characters. Find out how your characters would behave if they could no longer wear their favorite shoes, or had to wear armor that made it hard to breathe and move around. How would the story change? For the better? For the worse?
Keep asking questions until there are no questions left to answer. And don’t lock yourself in one place, location, occupation for your characters, etc. Be flexible and willing to adapt.