My local group started a game of Dresden Files RPG last night. There were a lot of people who were new to the system. Oh, some of them knew how skills and aspects and powers work, but almost none of them knew how to make characters.
So, let’s do this crazy thing. Fate, as I’ve written before, prioritizes drama over tactics. That means good character design techniques for Fate are the same as good character design techniques for writing. And indeed, I use it as a tool for such.
Here are the things you need to make your hero.*
1: Why should I give a damn?
According to TVTropes, the eight deadly words of storytelling are “I don’t care what happens to these people.” When a member of your audience utters these words, that member is gone. When your audience is gone, your story is, at best, mental masturbation.
But you probably don’t like it either. You just might not know why.
Note the word “care”. Not “I don’t like these people,” but, “I don’t care what happens to these people.” There are lots of ways you can give a damn. You may like the hero and want him to succeed. You may hate the hero and want him to suffer and die. You may be intrigued by the mysteries hinted at by the character and want to learn more. In all of these cases, you care about what happens to him.
So, to make a good character, you should start with why we should give a damn.
Example: Sidekick Superheroine Cherry Bomb is like the little sister everyone wishes they had. Kind, sweet, and fiercely loyal, we want her to have a happy life.
2: What Does The Hero Want and Not Have?
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was an awesome dude. And he lived happily ever after. The end.
That is a boring story. In fact, it’s not a story at all. A story is a problem that the hero has to overcome. A thing the hero wants, but doesn’t have.
He may want a magic ring, peace on earth, that sexy vampire girlfriend… the possibilities are endless. All Shrek wanted was to be left alone. We got a story out of that.
The story begins when the hero finds he lacks something he wants. It ends when he ceases to want it.**
What is the Hero Going to Do About It?
A hero who wants something, and just sits around on his ass anyway is boring. A hero who gets off his ass and starts kicking down doors (literally or metaphorically) is interesting.
There’s loads more that goes into a good hero, but these three things are absolutely vital. If you mess up these things, you’re hero is boring. If you get these right, your hero is interesting.
The next step in making a decent Fate character is seeing how stories fit with heroes.
*Even the villain and antihero and morally ambiguous dude are heroes in their own eyes, s I’m going to leave the “protagonist/antagonist” nonsense to the technical treatises where they belong.
**Oversimplified, but every plot that is more complicated simply swaps different wants in and out.