Writing a dark character is no easy task because you must simultaneously focus on the present, past, and future. Before writing your character, you need to know about the dark character. A dark character is a person who does bad stuff or has a traumatic past in life.
The reasons to do bad stuff are multitudinous, and they don’t even have to be antagonistic when put into context. But regardless, you are predisposed to take the non-heroic action at pivotal moments. The good guys swerve left, but you follow the beat of your drum and swerve right.
Morally ambiguous characters are considered fun and dynamic until they do stuff that conflicts with the party. But for a character to be evil in more than name, they have to do evil things. That is hard when you’ve got a team full of idealistic bleeding hearts and on medicine.
It can be annoying to have one party member constantly be tugging everybody else in a counterintuitive direction. That’s why the stigma around dark characters is so strong because there is something more important in meta play.
Meta play isn’t playing the game, and it’s playing your players. There is only one thing that matters in that game, making sure that everybody else is having fun. The key to recognizing a good table is by noticing whether or not the players are checking up on each other and relying on everybody else to check up on them in an unspoken, trustful way.
People often bring up not screwing over the party as a rule for playing evil characters. But what people don’t often bring up is that in-game, betrayals happen, and they can be the best twists in the story. The perception of whether something is recognized as a role-playing moment or a personal attack is often based on how much you like a person.
As a result, I found that socially confident people talk more positively about playing dark characters. But perception is reality, and reality is evil/dark. Characters take social finesse. One side is focused on role play, the other is focused on meta play, and both sides feel like agency is being robbed from them when the other side makes a decision.
How to write a dark character?
Why does your story matter? There’s a science behind every great story. When I make a dark character, the one thing that I have to remember when I role play is this dark is not fooled.
There are a lot of factors that go into creating a character, but one of the most global ones is that you have to play someone who wants to be at the party. If your idea of fun is splitting off from the group and murdering people because your character is psychotic, you will have a problem.
You don’t have to play a crazy ax murderer. But you do have to take out-of-game steps to rationalize it so that they stay within the confines of the party. So you don’t need to go out of your way to do it.
If your type of dark is greedy, then take a moment to realize that you are finding treasures beyond your wildest dreams with your party. So why wouldn’t you play ball with the more sentimental rules that you come out rich? Do you want to learn more? I will present my top 5 proven tips to write a dark character successfully. Let’s write!
1. Set your character’s goal
The characters think they have overcome. Make progress with their new and improv plan. Characters feel confident they will be victorious or have already overcome the smallest challenges.
Ask yourself (prompts):
- Why does my character think they will be victorious?
- What makes them feel so close to achieving their goal and finding happiness at last?
So, set a goal that makes the character feels motivated and lead a happy life. Don’t tell them that the bad days are coming because you will surprise/shock them without any sign. It will make the story darker and twist.
2. Add disaster moments
If you have the time to fool your character into thinking that they’ve won and things are going well, it’s devastating. Isn’t it? When disaster strikes, it could greatly enhance your story. So, bring your dark characters to their knees by rooting the disaster in their greatest fear and disbelief.
Go beyond that and make it especially bad for your characters because of their fear and disbelief. Throughout the story, every decision they’ve made has led them to this moment. It means they are to blame for their ruin.
Ask yourself (prompts):
- What does this disaster specifically mean to my character?
- How does it force them to realize that they’re to blame for this crisis?
- How does it completely disarm them and make them face their fear and disbelief?
It is a story about your dark characters. So what would destroy them? Maybe they’ve always been afraid of or the thing that’s so deeply rooted in the core of who they are. They would do anything to stop it from happening.
3. Make your character meaningful
Sometimes writers forget to make the wrong things specifically meaningful to the character. Do they forget to ask themselves why it matters? Understanding your character’s comfort zone is what makes the disaster disastrous. In the case of the inciting incident, it is the difference between characters pushed outside the door to characters shoved outside their comfort zone. Small change, but it makes a huge difference.
Also, it forces you to think about why it matters to them and draw the lines of the comfort zone, which means that you have to think about their misbelief. That is the reverse-engineered big idea or theme that you want to convey through the story.
See what happened there. That bad thing happening turned into something meaningful. All you’re doing is engaging the reader’s mirror neurons without the meaning. Their brains react to what’s happening as if it’s happening to them, but they don’t step in the character’s shoes and become the character. Don’t let your character be a punching bag for the plot.
4. Glorify the dark moments
After disaster strikes, it’s time for the dark moment. When your character is hopeless, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Your character needs a rock bottom moment to have an “aha” moment. That’s what makes the revelation so satisfying. But in the wake of the disaster, your character feels utterly and completely broken, confused, lost, and disappointed.
Ask yourself (prompts):
- How is my character forced into the ring with their kryptonite?
It could be their specific fear, but it’s the thing behind the fear. The thing that emotionally disarms them and leaves them hopeless. It has a lot to do with personality. So if your characters are one, maybe take this concept of criticism and turn up the volume. Make it bad because of who is criticizing them or why.
5. Focus on the story structure
Don’t get too obsessed with making your story align with every letter of the structure. It’s okay if you need to make some changes. The most important thing is to remember the principles behind the structure, why it works, why it matters, and always make it matter to your dark characters.
All three of these plot points (disaster, dark, and aha moments) come together to create an incredibly powerful climactic moment in your story.
These are the overarching ways you have to rationalize your character’s behavior, but that’s only the start because you’re still going to be spending session after a session playing a character with antagonistic tendencies. Remember, there are 3 to 5 other people at your table, and they all want a time to shine.
So the more impactful your singular actions would be to the entire party, the less likely you should be to make them, and the more time you should spend between them.
You can voice your opinion whenever you want, but actions speak louder than words, and people will remember the things you do more often than what you’ve said. The trick is to make your ideas seem palpable to the rest of the team, so they don’t feel like it’s too far off from what they want to do already. The more often you try to do things that the rest of the party doesn’t want, the less fun they will have. Don’t make a dark character. Make a flawed character, and work to reflect those flaws excitingly.
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