Worldbuilding: card characters for novelists

Ever been stuck sorting out characters for your story? Especially secondary characters that you can’t put too much time into but which still need that realistic edge. Today I thought I’d share an ideas trick that might work for you. A card game.

That’s right. A card game. Alice in Wonderland style, slightly. Here’s how. Make a set of (say) 20 blank pieces of card or paper. Not too large. Write down a coherent list of names, characteristics, actions and so forth, one per card. Ssort the cards into topics, one pile per topic. Shuffle – not really necessary, but we’re playing cards here. Lay them out, face up and find the character names. Set them out in a row. Then add a physical description and one or more action cards beneath each. Mix them around a bit.

Now have a look at what you’ve come up with.  Naturally a random fit like this will produce some pretty weird combinations. But it isn’t a ‘character generator’ The aim is to provoke – get you thinking.

Let’s say you have Roger the Shrubber, whose characteristic is ‘introverted and cautious’, but who gets an action ‘wild partying’. OK. Why? Can you think of a reason? Yes? Great. Write it down. No? OK, shuffle again. What now? Keep doing it. Add cards if ideas float in. See what comes up. Write down the new thoughts on a separate piece of paper if you need to.

This is a creation-provocation exercise – a start-point, not an end point. You won’t get final characters ouf of this, or even characters of any depth, particularly. But these may not be your main characters; these could be a secondary individual who needs some kind of feature to set them apart. Or maybe this exercise kicks up something brilliant that can turn into a major character. Certainly, with luck, the card-shuffle will get you thinking. It’s designed to create a framework – to provoke ideas, to be flexible along the way. Later, all that has to be fleshed out via donkey-work. But you have to start somewhere.

Do you have any character-creation systems you’d like to share?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

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