Continuing the discussion from How to write a series bible:
6 . Character breakdowns . Now that you’ve introduced your series, it’s time to list and describe your main characters. List each character by name, approximate age and race (if relevant), and role (professional title, place in the family, etc.), followed by a one- or two-paragraph-long description of the character’s personality, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and relationships to the other characters. What does each character want? What are the obvious behavioral peccadillos that make this person interesting? (For example, Dr. Shaun Murphy in David Shore’s The Good Doctor is an autistic savant.) If the character is going to change over the course of the series (e.g. Walter White in Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad ), how will that change be manifested? Avoid lengthy biographical information. All buyers want to know is who this character is now.
Only list your main characters. Try it keep the list down to six or seven. Spend the majority of time describing your lead characters, less so supporting characters.
Character generation is such a prominent feature of RPGs that this is hardly an item that we would be in danger of forgetting to do if it were to be left off our checklist. But there are points in this paragraph that are worth listing and working through. A lot of roleplayers are in the habit of considering a character-sheet full of capabilities and limitations to be a character, and when you press them to tell you what their characters are or are like (besides what they are capable of) they give you backstory instead of character. Capability is not character. Backstory is not character. Ury lists a few things that belong on a checklist for players when designing characters, but I doubt it is complete or entirely apposite.
- approximate age and race (if relevant),
- role (professional title, place in the family, etc.),
- relationships to the other characters.
- What does [the] character want?
- What are the obvious behavioral peccadillos that make this person interesting?
I think “personality”, “motivations”, and “relationships to the other [player] characters” are the ones that role-players most often give short shrift. I would probably write “habits and manners” rather than “behavioural peccadillos”. I think I’d add “attitudes” in there somewhere.
“Interesting” needs to be qualified: in a TV show it may be assumed to mean “interesting to watch”, “good to identify with”, or perhaps “good to resent and hate”. In an RPG I think the emphasis has to be on “interesting to play”, “fun to portray”, and “interesting and fun to be on the team with”. Some players have to be reminded that their characters points of interest really ought to appear in play and not merely in a backstory and journals that no-one gets to read. Some players manifestly play RPGs of the interior experience of being the character in the situation, and not all of them can or can bear to play their characters as a performance for others to enjoy. There’s no point in busting those players’ chops. But the rest of us can sometimes do with a reminder to design and play our characters with an eye to the entertainment of others.
Relationships with the other PCs are an area that often gets less work than it should. Character-players are often jealous of their sovereignty over their characters, maybe because they have rather too little control otherwise. But campaigns are often better if each PC has a niche or specialisation within the team: not a special capability as such, but a characteristic approach and attitude. On thing that I think character-players do well to collaborate on explicitly is to create characters with contrasts or attitude and approach that allow each to act as a foil for the other.
“Avoid lengthy biographical information. All buyers want to know is who this character is now.” can be quoted for truth.
Ury seems to be thinking of the series bible as being pitched to appeal to “buyers”, i.e. to the studio with the green-light authority, while also serving as a reference to free-lance script writers and the staff in the writers’ room. But RPG campaigns don’t work that way. Character breakdowns don’t belong in the pitch document for an RPG because character-players will usually be designing and generating their own characters after a pitch has been accepted. The information about characters that goes into the pitch is the more categorical and less specific X in “the PCs are X who do Y in setting Z”, which we dealt with under “premise”.
In an RPG the “main” characters who most obviously get the thorough breakdowns are the PCs. But there is a case for the GM sometimes doing something of the sort for a few key NPCs. These breakdowns usually ought not to be revealed to the character-players as they would be to writing staff and freelance writers on a TV series.