NaNoWriMo, Call of Cthulhu and Character Creation

NaNoWriMo Participant's LogoLast week I enlightened some of you to the fact that I’m going to be taking part in National Novel Writing Month this year, which garnered an amusing amount of interest considering I don’t exactly get involved in the WordPress community… at all!

We’re now just over a week away from the start of this month of literary madness, and so I’m on creating my characters and trying to distil a plot line from my under-creative brain. In terms of the plot, there’s an awful lot of work to go and there will probably be more plot holes than coherent action, at least that’s how it feels at the moment.

Today though, I’m going to talk a little about character creation, and no, I don’t mean the six hours you spend trying to decide what colour your facial tattoos are on Skyrim. Anyone who’s going to be attempting NaNoWriMo will have their own strategies for this, and I’d love to hear them, but here’s my take on character creation.

As I’ve said above, I don’t consider myself to be that creative. While I have a vague idea of what sort of characters I want in the novel, and a slew of characters I like from others’ novels (Clive Cussler’s Isaac Bell, Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Harper Lee’s Scout Finch) or from history (William Buckland, Barnes Wallis and Amelia Earhart), trying to construct imaginative yet plausible ones for my alternate reality science-fantasy is where I have come unstuck.

Call of Cthulhu Character Creation Kit

A Call of Cthulhu Character Creation Kit… including dice, rules and character sheet. The Book is the 30th Anniversary Edition of Call of Cthulhu.

This is where two things come in very handy: firstly my experiences with tabletop role playing games and a little PDF on the NaNoWriMo website.

“Why does the role-playing help?” I hear you ask. Well because the character creation system of role-playing games revolve around dice and probabilities and in the case of Call of Cthulhu – the system I’ve adopted for my characters – doesn’t involve much overt magic. You can get some really well-rounded, believable characters who have major flaws in one or two respects such as a below average intelligence (Insp. Goldman, a policeman has an INT of 9) or constitution (Ruari, my novel’s doctoral student is a truly pathetic 5 out of 18… the common cold would probably kill her!).

Character Set Table.

Preliminary Character Sets for my Novel’s major players.

The system also allows you to rig for certain characters or traits, so if you want a character with an absurdly large size, you add a multiplier (so instead of rolling two six sided dice and adding 6, you might add 10 for example). You also get a calculated number of skills to allot to a character’s skill set, which means for a character to be good at one thing, they lose out on another, preventing you from getting Indiana Jones-esque super-people! Finally; when it comes to fight scenes or investigative endeavours, it will allow me – with the help of some willing volunteers – to role play the events, which will result in some bizzare and otherwise impossible situations… the sort of “you couldn’t make it up if you tried” moments that make life really interesting.

So now I have the skeletons of my characters, I move on to the NaNoWriMo PDF, It’s a wonderful little questionnaire which; through a series of short, occasionally banal questions, actually really does make you think more about the deeper personality, history, character and idiosyncrasies of the main players – the protagonists and antagonists – of the story. I’ve only got through the two main protagonists so far as it’s quite a long questionnaire, but I’ll be working through the other main characters over the course of the next week!

I’d love to hear how other NaNoWriMo’s or writers in general go about this? Any words of advice that you think I could use? If so please share your stories in the comments below.

Ben D. Brooks

24/10/2012

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