Given my recent references to popular culture, I think it’s worth explaining why: over the last week or so, I haven’t had much in the way of internet. I’m effectively running on dial-up, meaning that my last few days have been spent watching movies and TV shows on DVD, reading books and so on, rather than playing World of Warcraft. As such, most of my ideas have been coming from fiction and creative writing rather than Warcraft-based roleplay – so if I’m making too many popular culture references, or sticking too much to roleplaying character design instead of roleplaying Warcraft lore, this is why. My apologies!
Now, one of the things that really make a compelling character work is details. Not details like “she’s a size 38H in bras” or “he can one-shot bears” – more details like “she suffers periodic back pain” or “when he was a kid, his dad took him hunting”. They don’t have to make an appearance in every scene, but occasional references to these facts make a character seem much more three-dimensional and real. After all, people always have things going on in their lives other than what you can see at that given moment.
Consider your place of employment, assuming you have one. Your co-workers probably don’t spend hours talking about their personal lives, but it’s highly unlikely that you’re completely unaware that they have them. Even if they don’t give you the full run-down every time you see them, little details about their life outsid work shine through. Maybe one of them takes a phone call from his wife every day during his lunch break, or someone has a photo of their dogs on their desk, or someone casually mentions that they always spend their vacation days in the snow.
Now, apply this same principle to your characters: it’s not exactly interesting to hear a co-worker, or another character, talk for hours about their personal life while you’re supposed to be working, or while you’re trying to do a boss fight in an instance. But just as your hypothetical co-workers drop the occasional comment, or have little rituals about their daily lives, a well-written fictional character (either in roleplay, or in a book or movie) will occasionally make reference to aspects of their personal lives or their pasts that don’t ever really come into play.
Of course, a lot of this advice is around the idea that your roleplay is primarily about their “job”, whether that be questing or whatever. If you’re a more social person, and prefer to roleplay having coffee with the girlfriends in Stormwind, that’s fine, but this advice still applies – your characters have histories, they have more than one thing going on at once. Even if you’re gossiping about what you’re doing tomorrow, you have that knowledge of what you did yesterday and last year, and making casual reference to the fact that you know what these things are can really make your character seem more three-dimensional.
It doesn’t even have to be a big deal – just as long as you abide by two main guidelines. First and foremost, when you decide on a detail, you keep it consistent. That is virtually essential – while most people may not notice a slip, changing too many fine details makes your character look poorly thought-out, rather than compelling and detailed. Secondly, don’t overdo it. Once again, it’s not very interesting to spend hours on end talking about how you need a breast reduction because of your back pain, especially not if you’re trying to run an instance at the time. Keep it relevant and keep it interesting, is the key. Don’t oversell your points or spend too long dwelling on them – unless your character detail is that they talk way, way too much. In that case, go right ahead.