Character creation is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an artist or writer. This is where creativity can truly thrive as a person's imagination shines at its brightest as they form an image of a character that they find special. No matter what kind of art interests a person, characters tend to bring the depth needed to hook the viewer is looking for so that they can focus on the visual or literary piece.
Anyone can create at least one character if they put their mind to it. This tutorial will assist you in setting up your own character(s) that you may enjoy for as long as you wish.
Why make a character?
As previously stated, a character serves high importance in creating a memorable piece of art. Of course, this is not always the case, but that varies depending on the genre that you, the artist or writer, specialize in. Character creation is also an effective way to keep the creative juices in the brain flowing as there is so much that you can do with one single character's design.
Writers, it is imperative that your characters are memorable and get the reader excited to continue to follow the story you have made. If your characters are bland and boring, your story will never have a chance at succeeding.
What kind of characters can I make?
The sky is the limit for what kind of character that you can make. The combinations for making a character are practically infinite. From the kind of clothes they wear, to their personality, much thought can take place throughout this creative process.
The easiest kind of character that can be made is YOU! You already know everything about yourself, so you can use that to make a simple design for your very first character if you are at a lack of ideas. The character doesn't have to mimic you perfectly (unless that is your intention for the character), so feel free to make some minor edits to the design. Basing a character off of yourself also gives you a deeper connection to other characters that you first create. This is very effective in writing as you can use this kind of character to live out scenarios that couldn't see yourself in real life for fun. This kind of process is called "self-insertion" and tends to work well for those that have just started their journey into the art of words.
Depending on your style, your character could even just be a simple self-portrait of yourself that you are creating in a style different than the traditional form. For example, drawing yourself as a cartoon character is one of more commonly seen uses of this method.
Starting the process
The time that the process consumes varies depending on the kind of character that you are creating as well as your own ability to picture it in your head. It could take as long as just a few minutes, or it could even take several hours to perfect your character. I will provide explanations of various parts of the structure of a character that you can consider using to help make your own creation.
-Name: It can be simple at times, but it can also be quite challenging to think of an appropriate name for the character. If you are having issues with coming up with a nice name that is unique, don't fret. You can always start with a simple name that you hear in real life and then change the name later if you wish to do so. As you create the name, try to pronounce it yourself and make a note of how it sounds and see if you like it. The name does not need to be complicated, preventing any possible confusion that the viewers might have about the name.
Also, often enough, some organizations annually release a list of the most common names given to children. Utilize these resources and find the most common names in your respective country to also help give you an idea of what to name your character.
If your character is going to serve a great deal of importance regarding a particular religion (real or fictional), then naming the character after a particular god or after a title of a god might be a wise move. A good place to look regarding this is the Far East and its cultures. In general though, researching as many cultures as possible always helps in the character building process, regardless of how big of a role the character will serve.
-Gender: Once again, a very simple choice to make. However, this would be best to choose after you determine the kind of personality you would like your character to have. If you prefer your character to not have a gender or even be transgendered, then feel free to do so. Just because the options are somewhat limiting in this section doesn't mean you can't find a way to break the usual boundaries.
-Age: This depends on what kind of circumstances that you want your character to be involved with. Feel free to come back to this part once you have determined some of the other qualities. An easy tactic to choose age would just give an age that is similar to your own. When it comes to an exact birthdate, my recommendation would be to use the day that you created your character, except that you can change the year to match their age.
-Height/Weight: Most people usually aren't specific with this type of information. However, if you are one of those people that like to be precise with your designs, you may add such information to your character's biography. This brings good insight on the appearance of your character. It is not a requirement in the process, but it is a nice thing to keep in mind. If you are basing the character from yourself, use your own weight and height, but feel free to change in a way that would be your own ideal goal, particularly with weight since that can always change, depending on whatever circumstances the character faces.
-Physical characteristics: Here, you want to be specific on the appearance of your character. Now, a general overview of how the character looks is just fine, especially if this is the first character you ever created. As time goes on, you will become more detailed with their appearance. Start with simple body types and other important features that your character might have. Be as detailed as possible with your descriptions, acting like you are a tailor, sizing up a character for an outfit. You can then use this information to help edit your character's appearance for things such as the advancement in age or other altering events such as injuries, pregnancy, and illness for example.
-Clothing: Probably one of the more difficult traits to determine for your character. In some cases, clothes may not even be necessary; that usually only works on certain characters, so make such a choice wisely. Clothing does help add more depth to the design as well as offer more creativity to the process. A common recommendation would be to choose clothing based on the character's personality. If you fail to determine a nice outfit, just use clothes that you usually wear to solve the predicament. If you wish, you may also create an ensemble of clothing for your character. This will allow your character to be seen in different environments and locations. If you gave the character an occupation of some sort, you may also design an outfit for what they do; that is completely optional.
-Personality: The character needs a soul; that is a fact. The addition for personality is crucial for depth in the design. Take some time to really think of the proper mindset for the character. Numerous factors can play a role into the creation of the personality and it should be designed well-enough for realistic changes in different circumstances. Be sure to consider how a character will act towards other characters that he or she may encounter. How the character acts around others could vary. Some factors include the following:
-Family ties and history
-Past history and events
-Mindset at time of meeting
-Sudden feelings that may pop up (crushes for example)
Here is also a list of personalities that you may consider to give your character: friendly, cold-hearted, angry, calm, peaceful, villainous, courageous, nerdy, cocky, arrogant, biased, innocent and so on. The use of the most extreme personalities (such as genocidal and racist for example) are only recommended for the most dramatic of stories for the character and the creator has to be extremely cautious about using such a character as the risk of offending someone will be high. New designers are suggested to avoid using such strong personality types until they are more experienced and even then it may not be preferred. Also, giving the character such a personality just for the "shock value" is not recommended.
Note that when it comes to designing a romantic relationship for a character, be sure that it would only seem fit for it to experience one. This will involve repeating the character design process to design a character the first one will find appealing.
-Species: This primarily will only be involved with a few genres in art. Fortunately, there are far more than enough species to choose from if you don't want your character to be a human. It can be easy to not know what kind of species you would like to choose from. I'd recommend taking a look at what kind of creatures that you consider as your favorites and then go on from there. If that still does not work, then look around at other people's characters and see if you can infer a species that hasn't been used as much, giving your character a chance to stand out amongst other ones. If you character is going to be primarily anthropomorphic in design, then you must also determine on how that decision will affect the physical characteristics, while remembering the key features that the animal has to make them stand out.
If you are really daring, create your own species! Once you have the experience with character design, you can create more species and creatures that can be seen in the world that your character lives in. Once again, the possibilities are endless when it comes to making a new race of creature!
-Origin: It is always good to think of a place where the character came from. Making up a location for your character can be quite easy, but this is an optional part of the process and should be used if you want to give your character a back-story. Once an origin has been chosen, build the world around the character; cities, natural landmarks and features, time period, and the inhabitants and among many things to consider as you visualize the world that your character lives in. Take small steps and make the character the center of the world. Start with a hometown, then the land surrounding it as well as any water nearby. Once you got their home figured out, focus on creating new places of residence and land masses to create the entire world. As the saying goes, "the world is in your hands."
-Strengths/Weaknesses: Most of the time, this will only relate to role-playing stories with other people's characters. So, if you have no intention to use your character in such a way, then this can be skipped. For those that will use this, it can give greater insight into what your character is capable of. This may also be intertwined with any special abilities that a character has. A list of three or four strengths and weaknesses is usually good enough for this kind of intent.
-RPG Stats: Now, going deeper into a characters abilities, strengths and weaknesses tend to lead to creating the character as if they were starring in their own RPG. Now, game designers will primarily do this, but many also like creating such stats for fun. The question is how to exactly show such stats. Over the course of gaming history, we have seen many ways of showing how capable he or she at certain categories. Personally, my favorite way to represent their capability is through letter grades. Most of the time, the system runs from A-E, with A being excellent and E being practically non-existent. Now, here are some basic things you see that are measured in a RPG:
-Spell/Skill Points (SP)
Again though, these are just the basic things that are commonly measured in most RPGs. As a designer, you will most likely create even more categories to measure your characters by. Once you have what you want out of the skill measurements, you can move on to the abilities that your character possesses. Remember to keep their abilities in mind when you create abilities for the character. For example, if your character lacks Spell Points, then it would not make much sense for it to have access to some of the most powerful magic available. Instead, they would use their points on skills that enhance their own physical attacks or assist the entire party. Things such as temporarily raising stats or enhancing their own abilities are some things that such characters are capable of doing.
I will create an example RPG information sheet to show you how you could make your own. I will use one of my own characters for this.
-Name: Midnight Emira
-Weapon type: Rifle
-M. Attack: E
-M. Defense: C
-Casting time: D
-Abilities: Sniper Shot (heavy damage to enemy targeted, possible instant death effect), Combat Medic (Heals some HP for himself or ally), Full-Auto (discharge entire clip for heavy damage, but amount of damage taken random due to accuracy decrease), Air Strike (deals damage to all enemies in the field)
Now, I could have labeled more things, but I rather keep it short for the example to give you an idea of what you might be able to do. Notice that even though Midnight has some great physical stats, his magical stats are nothing to be proud of. Most characters learn new abilities from leveling up or improving their abilities of the role they are classed under. Setting up a table of when the character earns these abilities as well as how much it may cost to use it would be recommended.
As for names of the attacks, be as creative as you want! Even common attacks like fire (commonly known as flare, flara and flarus in many RPGs) don't have to follow those names. Break the mold!
The opportunities for customization are practically limitless. If you are unsure on what kind of system to follow, use the system utilized by your favorite RPG or even create your own!
-Special Abilities/Skills: Now, this is primarily used for fantasy, but some skills may also be used for normal works. It never hurts to give a character some sort of special skill if their design warrants effective use of one. Never go overboard with making such abilities (especially if using things like magic and elemental abilities). Even though it is fantasy, it is best to at least keep it somewhat realistic. In choosing abilities for your characters, focus on what kind of abilities interest you and then you can expand on a particular ability's uses once it has been chosen. Also keep note that a character eventually gets tired after using enough magic in a certain time. Even the most powerful warlocks have to rest when they use so much magic.
-Backstory: Both writers and artists can really benefit from the creation of a backstory for their characters. This adds tremendous amounts of depth and thus it paves the way for future ideas in the usage of the characters. If you do wish to write a story about your character, spend some time to figure out what it will be about and how it would get them to the current state that they are in today. If it doesn't make any sense for the character, then it won't work with your audience. Spend as much time as needed on thinking of an idea for a back-story if you will be writing one. That way, you can jot down notes on what will be occurring in it and make sure that minimal error is made. If needed, the back-story can allow minor changes, but any major changes can greatly alter what your character has already become.
Make your characters as unique as possible! It will help them stand at more and you can have more fun with your character. You can also feel proud of your design and how it looks compared to other characters. Take pride in your creations!
Some Don'ts of Character Creation
-A common issue is that some people tend to make their characters "all-powerful," completely incapable of being defeated by any means. This just takes away from the fun of making a character and this is a big issue for any roleplay stories that the character might get involved in. If you are going to have one of such a character, at least make another to combat against it. Otherwise, I'd try avoiding this completely if possible. Your character can be powerful, but everyone has some sort of weakness.
-Recolors are usually a sign of laziness in a designer. This usually applies to those who specialize in fan art, but there have also been many instances in other genres. It is understandable that some people don't know how to make their own unique character, but that doesn't mean you should just copy a character and slap a new coat of paint on their original appearance. Not only is it lazy, but it is just plain rude to the original artist of a character. If your character is currently a recolor, take some time to change some physical aspects of it at the very least. The better option is just scrapping it and trying another new character if possible.
-Addressing the fan art community, a common issue seems to be people having their own characters become romantically involved with official characters from what they enjoy drawing for. This tends to also cause a lot of drama between people of the same fandom. The easy way to resolve the issue to just design another character to have a relationship with your current character to avoid the mess altogether.
-If you can't pronounce the name of your own character, it would be best to change it.
Some final bits of information
-If you are stuck on trying to make a character, look around at other people's characters as suggested earlier. You might find something that catches your interest and you might use that to make a foundation for the design of your character. Just be sure not to inadvertently copy the character that you are using as inspiration.
-Remember, if you don't like your character, then it is likely that you may not want to keep it. If something seems wrong, try to fix it or just scrap the character.
-You know your characters are truly special if you somehow start to feel attached to them. This truly shows in literature when readers or the writer feels some sort of emotion when an event occurs to a character. If the reader feels like they are the character, then that is an even better result.
-Just because you finish the character's design doesn't mean that you can't edit it more. As you grow more skilled in making characters, you will come back and try to improve your previous characters. Once you are completely satisfied with the design, then you can stop making changes. When this may occur, is up to your own tastes as you age and change.
-To add on to an earlier note, if your character's name is a bit complex, write down how the name is pronounced so that others will be able to say and read it correctly.
-Do some research about characters known as "Mary Sues" if you are a writer, especially in fanfiction. This concept has caused a good bit of drama amongst character designers in both literary and visual art mediums. Don't worry about it too much though, especially if it is your first character. The point is to have fun while creating the character after all.
There you go. You now have the knowledge to go off and start making your own characters! Have fun and enjoy all the creations that your mind can think up! Good luck!