Feb 21, 2012

Character Trees From Film Crit Hulk

Film Crit Hulk is one of the better movie reviewers working today, though any given piece by him is a serious investment. Anyhow, I recently read the first section of his article on screenwriting and wanted to pull out one of the practical tools he gives for creating interesting and well-fleshed out characters, character trees. This is written from the perspective of writing characters in screenplays, but I think elements of it are transferable to roleplaying character creation. This comes about 9000 or so words into it:

"HULK WAS ONCE INTRODUCED TO A SMART WAY OF KEEPING TRACK OF CHARACTER TREES BY USING BODY PARTS. YOU START AT THE BOTTOM AND GO UP, THUS "BUILDING A COMPLETE PERSON."

TO WIT:

A) FEET - WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE? WHAT ARE THE FACTS OF THEIR FAMILY HISTORY? WHERE HAVE THEY LIVED? THE FEET ARE ALL ARE FACTUAL DETAILS TO BE DRAWN ON.

B) GROIN - WHAT DO THE WANT? HOW DOES THEIR SEXUALITY MANIFEST ITSELF? WHAT ARE THE OTHER BASE WANTS? GREED? APPROVAL? ESTEEM? THE GROIN ADDRESSES ALL THE THINGS ABOUT THE PERSON THAT ARE BORN OUT OF IMPULSE.

C) HEART - WHAT DO THEY NEED? WHAT THINGS DO THEY SECRETLY NEED IN THEIR LIFE THAT WILL MAKE THEM A BETTER PERSON? NOTICE IT IS RATHER DIFFERENT FROM WHAT A CHARACTER "WANTS" (WHICH MAY BE MISGUIDED). A CHARACTER'S HEART IS LIKELY THE KEY TO THE ENDING CATHARSIS.

D) THROAT - HOW DOES THE PERSON SOUND? NOT JUST THE LITERAL VOICE, BUT HOW DOES THE PERSON PROJECT THEMSELVES? HOW DO THEY COME OFF TO PEOPLE? WHAT IS THEIR "SURFACE VIBE" AS THEY SAY? A PERSON'S THROAT IS BASICALLY THEIR POSTURE AND ATTEMPT AT PRESENTATION.

E) LEFT CHEEK - WHAT IS THEIR INTELLIGENCE? HOW DOES IT MANIFEST ITSELF? HOW DO THEY PROBLEM SOLVE? BASICALLY, THE LEFT CHEEK EXPOSES THE "LEFT BRAINED" ABILITIES.

F) RIGHT CHEEK - WHAT IS THEIR IDEALISTIC / ARTISTIC CAPACITY? WHAT IS THEIR CONSCIENCE AND MORALITY? JUST LIKE BEFORE, THE RIGHT CHEEK EXPOSES "RIGHT BRAINED" ABILITIES.

G) CROWN - THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN LOOK AT AT ALL THE BODY PARTS LISTED AND PIECE TOGETHER AN ACTUAL PSYCHOLOGY. YOU NOW HAVE ALL THE TOOLS AT YOUR DISPOSAL TO CREATE A REAL, COMPLEX PERSON WITH A CONSCIOUS MIND AND A SUBCONSCIOUS ID. YOU CAN START TO PIECE TOGETHER WHAT REALLY MATTERS WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT THE CROWN. WHAT ARE THEIR DEFINING MEMORIES? WHAT IS THEIR PATHOLOGY? THE CROWN ESSENTIALLY ALLOWS YOU TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: WHO IS THIS CHARACTER?"

I've seen these kinds of questionnaires before in game books, and I'm generally pretty suspicious of them, but only because the ones in game books are really bad, and focus way too much on personal history and not enough on mannerisms and portrayal. This one has a much more useful balance.

It's well worth reading the whole article, and its sequel, though it's the size of a short book and written in all-caps. The Film Crit Hulk thing takes a while to grow on you, but it's worth pushing through it for the content, which is very good.