Making a Flat Character Sing

Making a Flat Character Sing

Getting a pre-written character can be an exciting part of the pre-larp process, but what if you don’t like your character? It can be disheartening, especially if everyone else seems enthusiastic about theirs. How can you go about turning a character that doesn’t inspire you into one you’re looking forward to playing?

Who Is This Character?

Your initial reading of a character might be cursory, which could cause you to miss important details. Take the time to read it again thoroughly to establish a more complete picture of the experience you might get from playing them.

If you have a strong emotional response to reading the character, it may be a good idea to leave a few hours or days before you tackle this in-depth re-read. However, If the character is actively triggering for you it may be best to skip rereading and go straight to contacting the organisers.

As you read, look out for a few things:

  • Who is the character? What are the key elements of their history and personality?
    What motivates them to do what they do?
  • What is the character’s role in the larp, both in the fiction and in the larp’s structure?
    Who or what might they be responsible for?
  • What is the character’s story likely to be?
    What do they want that they will likely need to expend effort to achieve because of the tropes of the larp’s genre or the desires of other characters?

If you’re comfortable reaching out, you can also ask the organisers more about the intention for the character to help you at this stage.

What Doesn’t Work for You?

Now take a close look at what you don’t like about the character. The problem might be something specific, or it might be something broader that seems to impact the whole character, but either way, being able to articulate it clearly will help you resolve it.

Look out for:

  • Things you aren’t comfortable with playing, like themes that are too close to home or personal relationships you don’t want to embody
  • Things you don’t think you’re capable of playing, for example because they would require specific offgame knowledge, more larp experience, or because they don’t feel like they work for your body
  • Things you don’t want to play, for example because you’ve played something very similar recently or the experience isn’t what you wanted from the larp
  • Things that are missing that you feel you need, like a certain relationship dynamic or an explicit motivation for the character

Consider if you might get an interesting experience from playing with some of the elements that you initially reacted negatively to, and if you think you might, you can challenge yourself to keep the character as it is. You might also feel the character has enough going on for you to be able to deprioritise the elements you’re less interested in playing and still have enough of what you want to play a fulfilling larp. Take a little time to think it over, and if you still aren’t happy, continue on.

What Would You Change?

  • There are three primary ways you can change a character:
  • Change the balance of importance of the elements of the character
  • Add extra depth, motivations, or events to fill in any gaps that are there
  • Change things that are explicitly stated to be something else

If you’re okay with playing everything in your character but like some parts more than others, spend your prep and your runtime energy on the bits that speak to you. If you have relationships that depend on elements you find less interesting, consider contacting other players to tweak your connections.

If your character feels like it’s missing detail or something you know your enjoyment depends on, add new elements. Strengthen your internal play by adding compelling reasons why the character acts how they do, or determining events that have challenged their outlook. Boost your external play by including recent occurrences they need to confront their contacts about, or adding strong opinions on topics that are closely tied to the larp’s themes and are likely to be debated.

If there are elements of the character you really don’t think you’ll be able to play, consider making material changes. Think about what you might alter, perhaps trying to keep past events thematically similar whilst changing how they played out, or changing an uncomfortable opinion. Remember that suggested or historical interactions with other PCs, named events or NPCs in the character’s history, or strong stances in the character’s worldview might indicate places where your character is designed to create a specific type of play in a larger context, so prioritise seeking organiser guidance if you want to adjust these elements.

Check With the Organisers

You won’t always need to contact the organisers, but you’re usually welcome to and it will give you more certainty about any assumptions you’ve made. If the larp design is low transparency, the organisers might have planned events that will impact or even change the character during runtime. In these cases, it’s especially important to voice your concerns so the organisers can review any secret information that you might not have access to.

If you’ve changed anything factual, encountered anything in the character that you find especially uncomfortable or triggering, think you might want a different role in the larp, or can’t figure out how to improve the character by yourself, getting in touch is highly recommended. Use the organisers’ preferred method of contact and try and articulate your concerns concisely and specifically. Offer solutions if you have them, but be ready to listen if the organisers suggest something else.

You don’t have to accept the changes right away. Feel free to ask for clarification on what any alterations might mean and why they’ve been suggested and, if you want to, take some time to repeat this whole process for the altered character. It’s your character, and you should enjoy playing it.

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Joanna Piancastelli (b. 1988) is a UK-based larp designer who specialises in bringing narrative experience design techniques to familiar genre stories, aiming for safety, inclusivity and accessibility in all her events. She has written and organised larps from small black box scenarios to large on-location productions, and as a participant she seeks out larps across a wide variety of traditions to learn from as many designers as possible.