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Writer’s Workshop: Adding Depth to Your Character

Some writers find it challenging to know when and how to add depth to their characters. It can be easy to stay too focused on the present, acting and reacting to current events and dialogue, while neglecting to show WHY your character should feel or behave that way. When your audience has a better understanding of your character’s background and belief system, it adds more power to almost any decision that character makes and allows for more impact and meaning in your writing.

Everyone had a different technique, and like with most creative art there’s really no wrong way to do this. Here are a few different methods you can use to add character depth, tailored specifically to the nature of SB118’s simming format:

1. Back Story/Flashback Sims

There may not be a more effective method than doing a good, ol’ flashback sim. You can just step away from present events and take us back to a formative moment in your character’s past. This requires a bit more narrative writing than the usual back-and-forth, tag-and-respond simming we do with our shipmates. You are entirely responsible for the cause and outcome of your sim, so you may need to put more forethought and even create an outline for how you want the sim to go before writing.

You never have to have a specific impetus for doing a flashback sim. Anytime you just want to show a glimpse of your character’s past, write away! Personally, I like to tie my in to something that’s happening in the present. Maybe we’re encountering a mission that reminds me of a past problem. Or perhaps we’re in a particular physical setting that triggers a memory. It could even just be a piece of dialogue, something someone says that hits a tender place.

2. Dream Sims

Your character’s dreams can be a fascinating look into the depths of his/her psyche. You can go to extremes with perceptions of other people, places, or circumstances that general simming may not allow. It’s an opportunity to explore the severity of fears, hopes, past trauma, future goals, and anything else that shapes who your character is.

If you choose to portray your crewmates in a dream sim, make sure you’re sensitive to their feelings. While your character’s dreams are certainly boundless for creativity you can easily offend someone by how you depict them. You may want to explain your portrayal of someone’s character in a private message ahead of time, letting them know what went into that creative choice. The key to any sim we write is promoting the enjoyment of the game for all involved, so don’t lose sight of that when you’re trying to be creative.

3. Descriptions and Thought Bubbles

Never underestimate the use of descriptive text and “thought bubbles” to add some character depth. Your descriptive writing does not have to be just pure actions. You can address the mental state and thought processes that went into a decision, such as the weighing of options. Throwing in the little nuances of how your character does something, such as “slowly, begrudgingly, excitedly,” makes it a little more distinctive and is an easy way to show your character’s mood and attitude about the circumstances in front of him/her.

Thought bubbles can be a fun way to interject some internal thoughts, from fear and insecurity to snarky sarcasm, into the story. They can allow for you to really show your character’s personality in a quick, one or two-line shot of private and revealing thought. It’s a great way to “say” what would otherwise go unsaid in the regular dialogue, clearly conveying what your character is truly thinking at a given moment.

4. Be a Real Person

Your character’s not always going to agree with the commander’s ideas. He or she may, and probably should, be annoyed by at least one of their shipmates. You should find certain situation overwhelming or even intimidating. This is a major part of creating a substantive character; making him/her a believable person with likes and dislikes, weaknesses, fears… and even the occasional failure.

In fact, failure can offer some of the greatest opportunities to deepen and realize the full potential of our characters. Constant success and achievement are, frankly, a little boring. They also maintain a status quo that often doesn’t allow characters to show a broad range. It’s when our characters are dealing with loss, remorse, and other negative emotions that we often get to the deeper points of their psyche and emotional make-up. You’ll have a more successful overall character if you occasionally embrace the realism of failure.

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These are just a few of many potential ways to create fuller, more complete characters. Our group is full of experienced and accomplished writers who would be happy to discuss their techniques with you. If you see someone whose work you admire, never hesitate to ask them for guidance. The better each character is, the more fun we all have writing and interacting together.

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