Character Diamond

There is an optional tool for developing consistent and believable characters that was created by a screenwriting teacher named David S. Freeman called "Character Diamonds." It was further refined by my friend, Mishell Baker (author of The Arcadia Project series), before it was passed on to me (PirateSpice). This was an immensely helpful tool during my days RPing in World of Warcraft, and can be of use to any role-player to help make deep and engaging characters. You could use this as a method of determining some of our Quirks, but it isn't necessary. Just to be clear, this is an entirely optional thing, merely offered as something others may find useful.

They are called diamonds as they are based on four essential character traits, like the points of a diamond. The goal of these four adjectives is as follows:

  • All-Encompassing: Between the four of them, they must pretty much completely encompass every aspect of your character. This means they should be appropriately general, as you need to spread them pretty far to cover as much of your character as possible.
  • Distinctive: They should not overlap or duplicate each other. Ask yourself, can my character be X without being Y? If not, then X and Y do not both belong in your character diamond.
  • Traits: Each adjective should be a trait, i.e. it should affect the way your character acts, speaks, and possibly even looks. So "wealthy" is not an appropriate adjective, as it doesn't affect the way a person acts. But "materialistic" or "snobbish" could well be.
  • Four Is the Magic Number: No more or less than four. Less, and your character may be too simple. More, and you may not have a good handle on your character. A real-life person might need more than four adjectives, but a fictional character shouldn't (especially if you're adhering to guidelines 1 and 2). Any more than that and your audience may have trouble creating those fun mental expectations of how your character might react to various things. They'll never really feel they "know" that character.
  • Diamonds Are Forever: These are traits, not states. They are unchanging. "Naive" can be a personality trait, but only if you are that Teflon type of person who just never, never, never loses her innocence.

Creating the Diamond

So how do we come up with just four words to describe a character? Here's a process to help develop the diamond.

To demonstrate how this works, we'll do a diamond for a character named "Lucian" as we go.

Step 1: Brainstorm Personality Traits

Write down a list of words that describe your character's personality using as many adjectives as you possibly can. Write down at least twenty words (more is fine, less is probably not enough), and make sure you have a decent balance of unflattering and complimentary words. Don't worry if any of the words seem to contradict. Human beings can be contradictory creatures. It is the blend of these traits that makes for a complex and interesting character.

For Lucian, I came up with the following words:

Emotional, Honorable, Angry, Impetuous, Determined, Bestial, Driven, Untrusting, Compassionate, Proud, Fierce, Romantic, Idealistic, Lonely, Tormented, Loyal, Protective, Single-Minded, Passionate, Impulsive

Step 2: Eliminate Temporary States

Cross out any words that describe only temporary states, or traits you plan to eliminate in your character over time. Keep only those that describe your character's permanent, unchanging temperament from birth until death.

Looking over my list, I see that Angry and Lonely are temporary states, so those get crossed off. Similarly, Tormented and Untrusting are states that I don't think I want Lucian to be locked into forever, so they also get crossed off.

Emotional, Honorable, Angry, Impetuous, Determined, Bestial, Driven, Untrusting, Compassionate, Proud, Fierce, Romantic, Idealistic, Lonely, Tormented, Loyal, Protective, Single-Minded, Passionate, Impulsive

Step 3: Sweep Similar Traits Together

Look at the words you have left and try to "sweep" them into four different "corners". Gather together words that seem to go together. For example, Impulsive and Passionate might go in the same corner. Words that don't have anything to do with one another, like Sociable and Spiritual, or even seem to contradict, like Practical and Superstitious, should go into different corners.

I've gathered the remaining words into four corners according to their similarities:

  • Emotional, Impetuous, Bestial, Fierce, Passionate, and Impulsive all seem to be tied to how Lucian wears his heart on his sleeve.
  • Honorable, Idealistic, and Proud all revolve around Lucian's sense of what is just and right.
  • Determined, Driven, and Single-Minded stem from Lucian's myopic focus on his goals.
  • Compassionate, Loyal, Protective, and Romantic come from the way Lucian connects to the people he cares about.

Step 4: Define Each Diamond Corner

Now look at each corner and try to find one word that encompasses every word in that corner. It doesn't have to be one of the words you've already written down. Impulsive, Passionate, and Quick-Tempered might go under Impetuous for example. Spiritual, Obedient, and Lawful might go under Religious.

Examining each of the collections of words, I've come up with the following.

  • Emotional, Impetuous, Bestial, Fierce, Passionate, Impulsive: While Emotional would certain encompass all of these, Passionate seems more apt, as Lucian obviously feels things very strongly, in a way that often gets the better of him.
  • Honorable, Idealistic, Proud: All of these traits tie into Lucian's sense of honor, so Honorable is the way to go.
  • Determined, Driven, Single-Minded: These are all similar concepts. Eventually I decided that Driven is the best way to describe Lucian's ambition, as he feels the need to push forward even when he doesn't understand what he pushing toward.
  • Compassionate, Loyal, Protective, Romantic: This was a hard one. I didn't want to just use one of these four words, as each speaks to something very specific. So I pondered what could be a deeper trait that manifested as all four of these, and realized that all of this really stems from Lucian's desperate need to hold onto the people he cares about. He tries to gather them to him, to care for and shield them. Finally, I decide Paternal describes the source of these behaviors, which actually teaches me something new about the character that I feel fits well and gives me fresh avenues to explore.

Step 5: Test Your Results

Test your four final adjectives, your traits, against one another. Can a character have one trait without necessarily having the other? If so, both words belong in the diamond. If not, choose the more accurate word, eliminate the other, and come up with a fourth trait. Also, make sure at least one trait is negative (or has a negative aspect), and at least one is positive.

My four words are: Passionate, Honorable, Driven, Paternal. Examining them, they can all exist independently of each other. But Driven could potentially have some overlap with the others. Furthermore, I don't have a single trait with a strong negative aspect to it. So I swap out Driven for Stubborn, which still encompasses Lucian's determination and single-mindedness, but makes it more clear how it can easily work against him.

So, Lucian's final diamond is: Passionate, Honorable, Stubborn, Paternal

This gives me an easy blueprint to keep in mind whenever I play Lucian, so that whatever else might change or develop about the character, these traits will always be present in some form. They are the foundation upon which everything else is built, and they give him a sense of consistency and depth. This makes him not only easier to play, but a more interesting character for others to build a relationship with.

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