I've said this before and it's worth repeating: character sheets are completely optional.
To get your day to day roleplay fix you need no more than a character in mind and the ability to play them with some consistency unless inconsistency is a part of their character (see: mental instability and unreliable narrators).
Still, sheets are useful for keeping track of information. Especially if you have multiple characters, and for portraying information to your writing partners that you may not feel like repeating every time you start a new thread (if I have to describe this *******'s eyes one more time, I swear!).
The consequent sections are in no particular order. Experiment with doing the last part first or starting in the middle, and you'll be surprised at what jumps out at you. You also don't need to write a paper for each section. Just put some thought into each section for your character, then you can keep that in mind or fill out a character sheet if you please. We have character sheet templates available for public use.
I'll occasionally refer to "breaking" your "character image". Take this to essentially mean challenging the suspension of disbelief that we as writers adopt in a fantasy roleplay environment.
I tend not to get hung up on names for my roleplay characters because I believe in the "a rose by any other name" quote, but that's just me. If your RP character originates in Valucre (which is optional) it'll definitely make your character a more concrete addition to fit into the place that he or she originates from, and some authors get a kick out of having their character names be indicative of their personality or fate.
Some basics to think about are what other characters see about your character upon first sight. Eye, hair and skin color. Scars, tattoos, piercings. What characteristics make sense for the location of your roleplay? Think about the multiple dimensions that hygiene adds to appearance. Your character has black hair – is the hair smooth? Shiny? Silky? Greasy? Stringy? Are their teeth straight? Yellow? Fake? What do they smell like? What do they sound like?
What's your character's build? Look up images of people that have the same basic height and weight of your character so you can get an idea of their silhouette and stature. If you play a character that is large and imposing, indicating an inappropriate height and weight will break your character image.
Think about attire. This is influenced by position, profession and personality. A blacksmith won't always be walking down the street with their apron and a hammer on their back. An assassin can be dressed in anything from beggar's clothes to a noble's surcoat. A warrior might walk with a limp to hide the clank of armor underneath his cloak. Any of these characters might make it a point to keep a daisy in their lapel.
You may also revisit Physical Appearance after thinking about Personality and History, as they individually and together have an influence on Appearance. A mousy bookworm isn't likely to be tanned and muscular, and a belligerent orphan in an abusive institution is likely to have scars or missing teeth.
There are hundreds of lists and dozens of books written on personality types and character traits. For the sake of simplicity we'll go with the five personality traits that most modern psychologists accept as being the basis for all other personality traits.
OCEAN, or Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism. The (modified) explanation for OCEAN provided below is an excerpt from a Wikipedia Article:
Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, unusual ideas, and variety of experience. Openness is described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine.
Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one's trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control.
Note that these categories are not meant to compete with one another, that each category represents a spectrum on which a character can land, and that being at the extreme of either end is unbalanced (which can make for very interesting characters, but don't try to "score high" in each category either).
Consider how your roleplay character fulfills each category and where on the range they fall.
Extraversion can range from "I'm the life of the party" to "I'm quiet around strangers". Agreeableness can range from" I have a soft heart" to "I'm not interested in other people's problems".
Some basics of personality to think about are fears, prejudices, morals and motivations. All of these paint and influence personality, but motivations are the traits that tend to be most obvious to other characters.
- Achievement and Acquisition: A desire to overcome obstacles, to acquire recognition or fame, or to just be the best.
- Adventure: To explore everything, discovery mysteries, blaze new trails.
- Chaos: To disrupt social order, sew confusion, destroy buildings and extinguish life.
- Education: To gain knowledge or information, to train under prestigious teachers or be a teacher themselves.
- Nobility: For a higher purpose, order, religion, etc.
- Peace: To bring harmony to the world and protect the helpless.
- Recreation: To have fun and enjoy life.
- Power: To gain material wealth and land, to accrue power, to control others.
I've seen Character Histories that were a few sentences long, and others that were a separate thread and multiple posts long. There's a lot you could choose to say about a character in this section and how much to include is, as always, a matter of personal preference.
I suggest including only what is relevant to your character's current roleplay. Regardless of age, your character's childhood can be very crucial to your character's personality and motivations and their current story. But if your character's current story is about avenging their lover's death, their childhood is very likely of no consequence at all.
What shaped your character's personality or outlook of the world? What history/profession/interest explains your character's abilities, attire, and equipment? Have they met any influential people or participated in historically important events? Why is your character where they are now, doing what they're doing?
Abilities and Equipment
Unless closely tied into Personality and History, I suggest making Abilities and Equipment the last section you focus on. It's a common trend among RPers to see a cool weapon or power on a video game or show/anime. I'm here to say, don't fall for the trap! Valucre is about you being free to write whatever moves you and inspiration comes from all angles, but in my experience these types of "shake and bake" characters are not very fulfilling and tend to evaporate quickly.
You want things about your roleplay character to make sense, and if they don't, to be able to explain why that is. Abilities and powers should be relevant to your character's history. A mermaid that can talk to fish and manipulate water makes more sense than a mermaid that periodically breathes fire – the latter doesn't have to be impossible but the idea is a non sequitur, it does not "follow", and if you can't explain why your aquatic creature is capable (or cursed? compelled?), you break your character's image.
In terms of cost, weight, and amount, is your character's equipment sensible?? How much growth are you allowing your character, and whether a little or a lot, is it this deliberate? How much of your character's abilities and equipment is created in the narrative (the sheet, the background), and how much is received through actual content written on the site and interaction with the community?
Edited by supernal