One of my new favorite bloggers Story Addict wrote a blog called To Be or Not To Be: Do Authors Need to Know How to Act? In which she discusses whether or not writers need to be able to act. My thoughts are that while we need not be able to perform, we do need to be actors, in a sense. We need to have each character think and behave in a fashion that is consistent.
Even more than acting, it’s my opinion that authors should participate in role-playing games. For the non-geeks, there are RPG’s out there covering every topic, and every genre. I’m currently playing a wild west RPG called Deadlands. (Deadlands calls it the Weird West). It’s steampunk, zombies, cowboys, demons, gunfights and horseback riding chase scenes, underground caves featuring Indian magic, old west preachers with guns, duels, you name it.
There are RPG’s out there for vampire fans, there are murder mystery RPGs, there are those targeting young adult audiences that focus more on teen drama.
Role playing is what we as writers do. We create a character, and then tell a story centering on that character (or group of). RPG’s
require you to fully get into your character’s head. To think and act as they would on the fly, when presented with unknown situations. You define your characters actions, but since the story is unknown to you, you have to know that character inside and out. You have to think like they would, so that when they’re put into a situation, you immediately respond as they would.
All you really need to get started is a generic character sheet. Search google until you find one that suits you. This character sheet is generated by a computer program that one of our GM’s (Game Master) bought, but you can find pre-printed blanks or PDFs for your own printing all over google.
That character sheet on the left was the starting point for Mason Campbell. I added a bunch more layers to the character from there. I wrote a two page (2500 words or so) background on Mason, during which I decided that Mason was actually going to be starting a new life under the name Doctor Jason Brown. Yea, I’m playin’ a dude who’s playin a different dude.
During character creation, I decided that Mason was going to be a weird scientist, the Deadlands version of a steampunk inventor. Any good weird scientist needs to have his personality quirks, Jason is deathly afraid of magic use, even slight of hand tricks. Mason is a devout scientist, and as such believes in things he can see and touch. Magic and miracles have no place in his world, he believes they are either tricks or they are scientifically explainable he just hasn’t figured out how to explain them yet.
Role playing forces you to define your characters in ways that you never have before. Even if you aren’t interested in playing your character’s personality with a small group of people, you
can still role-play by yourself. Write down a dozen scenarios. Toss them in a hat. A week later, when you’ve forgotten what you wrote down, pull them out one by one and examine your character’s reactions in those situations.
For Mason, I created pages and pages of drawings, schematics for devices he has invented, wants to invent, or is fantasizing about inventing. Being the complete geek that I am, I artificially aged the paper, giving it a more authentic feel. You can also see on the right the folder I made for him, plus the typed character background. I use these things to feel connected to the character. These are the ways I get into Mason’s head, how I put myself in his place so that when James says “You see a rotting corpse heading in your direction,” I react as Mason would, with curiosity first, unless someone was in danger, or there was a chance to impress the
beautiful Miss Caroline Mathison, in which case he would attempt to keep his friends safe. Because otherwise, I would probably react as Victor Tookes would, which is to charge in to cut the things head off before stopping to wonder why there was a rotting corpse walking around.
If you’re intrigued, swing by a local comic shop and speak to the manager about what games are running. Or check out any of the myriad websites like RPG Game Finder to find a game near you.