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Monday, March 03, 2008

It's good for you. It builds characters.

Blogging about Play-Doh the other day got me thinking about the kind of creating I like to do. I wrote about how I liked to make new creatures with the venerable modelling compound, and further reflection reminded me of other times in my youth when I mined similar veins.

Playing with Lego as a kid, I had a set of five spacemen -- each of which was a different colour or had a distinctive decal on the chest. I gave each one a name, and different abilities, and each had his own distinct tool/weapon. (Hmmmm, sounds a bit like the kids from Battle of the Planets, of which I admit I was a devoted watcher.) I had a leader, a driver, a scientist, a strong guy, and a weapons expert. Of course, I built all sorts of different vehicles and bases for them over the years, and countless foes and competitors, both robotic and alien -- but the team stayed constant, five distinct and distinctive individuals.

Back when I participated in role-playing games, character creation was one of my favourite parts. I'm quite certain that, over the years, I rolled up ten times as many characters as I played. Heck, I even took up GM-ing so I could have an excuse to create new bad guys and other NPCs. (For the non-geeks who might be reading this, a GM is a Game Master, the person who builds and runs the story in which the other players run their characters. An NPC is a non-player character, which means anyone/thing in the game story that isn't controlled by a character. And if you need more explanation than that, I suggest you try visiting a gaming or fantasy convention -- he says, cackling madly and rubbing his hands together.)

Of course, one of my favourite RPGs (that's Role-Playing Games, not Rocket-Propelled Grenades, for you non-gamers) was Marvel Super Heroes. Character creation was a snap, with all sorts of powers and combinations available. Heck, I could roll off a character in a couple of minutes, and then spend the next half hour blissfully immersed in creating backstory and identity: name, age, gender, origin of powers, visual manifestation of powers, life before powers, costume and logo, enemies, friends, allies, family. If I really liked the character, I would spend my spare time filling out the hero's identity, deciding what he or she was like, how they reacted to certain situations, how they would handle specific villains, even their favourite foods and what music they liked.

Now that I'm a writer (yeah, I know, it's kind of stretching things to identify myself as "a writer", but I do write stuff), character creation is still my favourite part. Characters come easily to me, and the slightest spark of an idea, spawned by a name, or a phrase, or some bit of visual, can set me off on a character-creation frenzy. (Well, it's a frenzy inside my head -- although, how that's different from any other time is really a question of kind, not intensity.) I imagine scenes with the character as I walk down the street, and cook up bits of dialogue while preparing dinner. I can't really say I obsess on the characters, since I rarely stick to one topic for long, but I definitely devote a significant portion of my spare braintime to thoughts about characters I've dreamed up.

You could say I've got a bit of a God complex, creating and defining other lives for fun. That could be, but the difference between God and myself, in this regard, is largely a matter of intensity, not kind.

I'm no god. I'm just a writer.

Well, a writer who needs to spend more braintime on plot. But at least I know where my strengths lie.



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