Recently, I was chatting online with a mate who has trouble getting into character at the game table.
At the end of it all, he suggested it'd make a good topic for a blog - so here's an editted transcript of our chat, and a few comments to expand on it.
Me: As far as RPing goes, you seem to me to be a bit embarrassed about actually playing "in character".
Jack:Yeah. I get too shy doing it.
I always try to make a character based on someone from TV so I have a rough idea.
Me: Nicking other people's characters is fine - we all do it a bit. The point is to put yourself in their shoes.
Jack: I know we are all nerds together but I hated drama and stuff at school.
I can do the whole loud, blunt Jack act quite well, but that's it.
Me: Sure - make characters who are easy for you to play before you try hard stuff. You know - play Jesse from Breaking Bad. He'd be right up your street.
Jack: See, Vin [Jack's rogue character] was always Mike from Breaking Bad in my head. Sutrin [Jack's warrior character] was always going to be the Hound [from Game of Thrones] - but I never really got the ball rolling with him.
Me: Okay - but you aren't a grim tough guy, yourself. You're more of a gobby youth, innit blood! That's what made me think of Jesse.
Me, I like to play clever, slightly posh chaps who want to do the right thing, but get out of their depth and have to bluff and blag their way through.
Jack: Is that why you are always a mental wizard? ;)
I was thinking gruff type dude would be easy as I can just be blunt.
Me: You may be blunt, but you're not gruff.
Jack: Sure. Right then - that's my plan. I will make a Rogue for [the next] game, and he can be a street urchin type - BITCH! Totally works, yo!
The short version is this: play yourself - or a version of yourself.
It's usually within your comfort zone, you don't have to stop to think about character motivations so much - it reduces the strain and lets you enjoy the game.
Acting like yourself is far less out there than acting like a large ham, booming all your statements and trying to sound like Brian Blessed or Laurence Olivier.
I've seen the same sort of embarrasssment in LARPing - it's far easier to get people to come and play contemporary or near future LARP where they get to wear their own clothes than it is to get them to dress up like Robin Hood.
Once you've got the hang of playing a version of yourself, you might want to try assembling a character out of part of yourself, rather than just slotting your whole personality into the setting.
Maybe you're a bit of a science nut, who finds social niceties difficult - then you might find it easiest to play a bookish wizard with little time for social skills.
Myself, my day job is working in product safety compliance, applying laws and safety standards rigidly: so aside from clever-but-naive idealists, sometimes I like to play strong enforcers of some code of ethics - cops or paladins or whatever the setting has - who have to learn to moderate their black-and-white morality.
Great actors talk about finding a connection with their character from their own experience, so that they can channel their own real emotions into the performance.
You'll need to know yourself to play like this - but I've found that playing various versions of myself over the years has given me a better understanding of those parts of my own personality, which in turn makes me better at playing other roles.
If you start by making an alter-ego of yourself who shares much of your own personality, then their behaviour in the face of the game's scenarios starts out as easy - and in time, that behaviour and expeience will change the person that the character is, as their life moves away from your own.
Then you'll find you're playing a well-rounded character, with just a hint of you buried under the wealth of experience they've gone through.