Forum roleplay is its own animal: many characters come and go, some live, most die, but most of all there is constant outside influence on your characters based on the forum’s world, theme, and most of all other people’s characters. Unlike a short story or novel where you control the outcome of everyone in your narration, forum roleplay integrates the stories of everyone’s characters into one ever-changing universe that is directly impacted by everyone’s contributions. When played and written correctly, each person only has a modicum of control over their character’s fate which makes it a tasty and invigorating outlet for many who enjoy writing in alternate capacities outside of their own works.
But what makes a character memorable? What makes a character great to the degree that they burn themselves not only in our own minds, but in the minds of those we write with online? What makes them, in a sense, immortal?
I took some time to interview some of my fellow forum roleplayers and asked them: “What makes a character memorable to you?”
“Flaws, weaknesses and mistakes. [I want to see] their vulnerabilities and watch them overcome it.” – Rae
“I’ve always enjoyed the character that travels a nonlinear path, be it romance, ambition and/or demise.” – Cyn
“You can create a character with the most striking and unique personality, but if they have little impact on those around them, they’re not going to be memorable to anyone but you.” – Kiwi
So how do you achieve one of those memorable characters? Below are a collection of ways – tried and true – that can help you on your journey of creating and connecting with a character that will stick with you for life, no matter their species.
Nobody likes a badass right out of the gate. While it’s one thing if your forum takes prior-site experience into account, it’s another thing entirely to write your character as this invincible, unstoppable, unbeatable force from the get-go. Not only is it inorganic and unrealistic, from a fellow roleplayer’s standpoint it’s also annoying as hell. Start small. Pull together a few core traits about your character’s personality, their likes, dislikes, temperament, etc. If you’re having trouble coming up with a good mixture, there are several good generators out in the interwebs that can help you cobble together a character base. I recommend Seventh Sanctum, Writing Exercises or The Story Shack.
From these traits, you can begin to get a sense of who they are at their core. Whether they are patient, cruel, insufferable or wise, what matters at this stage is that you make them not only accessible, but flawed. No character is perfect, and creating in them these flaws allows readers to connect to them on a more personal level.
The term “organic development” is one that is far too often overlooked in the world of forum roleplay. While it’s fun to plot together certain thread outcomes, who might marry who, or what kingdom certain characters might want to rule over, planning too robustly and too far into the future takes much of the fun out of the actual writing, because you already know what’s going to happen. There are no surprises, there’s no growth, and that leaves for a stale plot-line and easily forgotten characters. Instead, make an effort to develop your character through each thread and interaction individually. Once they enter the universe of the roleplay, begin there: unless they were born there, they’ll need to explore it to get to know it, which will then create the need to become familiar with the locals (the other characters), which can then spark newfound goals that character then wants to achieve.
Taking each thread and post in such a manner will help guarantee that you aren’t planning too far ahead, leaving you open to surprises you might not have seen coming, such as unexpected rivalries, strong friendships and personal growth for your character.
Be Open to Change
This is the kicker, and often the breaking point of any memorable character from the writer’s standpoint. You have a vision of what you want your character to be, what they will accomplish, where they will go, what they will do. But with the volatility of forum roleplay, none of that is guaranteed… and that’s okay! Live in the temporary disappointment of the moment, but be ready to move on with the flow of the forum’s story and the other characters there. Flexibility is key to creating a lasting, memorable character because it allows you to work with the other writers to come up with a more complex story as you go, and what you saw as total destruction of your character’s plans will likely open more and better doors down the line if you stick with it.
More importantly, be open to your character changing themselves. The more time, effort and development you pour into a character, the more likely they are to change bits and pieces of their personalities along with it. Which, like the above, is perfectly normal and okay. Due to circumstances over time, a joyful and carefree character might be hardened into someone more wary or callous because of something (or things) that have happened to them. Likewise, a cruel or unforgiving character might learn forgiveness in some small capacity. While taking care to avoid boring or overused tropes (forgotten orphan rises to be king, anyone?), these changes in a character make them relatable and, in turn, memorable.
Stick With It
A memorable character doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be afraid to sink your time into a single character’s development, because a good thing doesn’t always come easily. It will take dedication on your part to make sure you are finishing your threads with other roleplayers and getting your character ‘out there’ on a consistent basis. A character that sits and doesn’t get written is too easily forgotten, so be sure to keep a diligent eye out for fun, exciting or adventurous threads that will help greater define your character.
That being said, this also includes putting them in potential danger. It’s natural to become overly protective of a character you’ve invested so much time, effort and yourself in, but don’t let that get in the way of creating a memorable character. Characters who play it safe rarely get recognized, so be open to dangers and take steps to become comfortable with the fact that – unless your forum roleplay’s rules disallow it – your character is expendable to a degree. You can’t keep them safe forever, and let’s all be honest here… where there’s character drama, there’s way more fun for the writers.
Expand Your Circle
It becomes habit to write with the same individuals over and over again, and while it’s perfectly normal to become close with people and want to plot with their characters, you could be inadvertently eliminating an entire demographic of people that would otherwise be directly impacting your character’s story and development. Take the time to expand your circle and socialize with other roleplayers on your forum that you don’t often write with, and toss your characters together to see what might happen! Writing with new people can often give a positive jolt to your inspiration level as well, opening doors to new ideas that will not only make your writing more fun for you, but create situations that will impact your character in a memorable way.
Go Out With a Bang
Let’s face it: it isn’t likely that a character who dies warm and comfortable in their own bed of old age is going to be remembered for their flare (unless, of course, their life leading up to that point was complete and awesome chaos). If it’s in their nature to do so, try and go out with a bang. Dig deep and get creative: perhaps they burn someone or something to the ground and become consumed by the flames themselves, or maybe they’re overwhelmed in battle and aim to take as many enemies with them before they go.
On a magical roleplay I once wrote on, my character could harness ice powers and when he was old and gray, he encased himself in ice and stepped from a cliff, shattering on impact at the bottom. The options are endless no matter what your forum genre is, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box and come up with a way for your character to die in a blaze of delicious glory befitting the life they led.
What are some of your most memorable characters, and why? I’d love to hear about them!