What Makes a Character?
It's here that we come to the biggest problem facing roleplaying, as far as I'm concerned: elaborate backstory that never gets acted upon in-game, and just sits there taking up paper. It makes sense, really. It's all good and well to craft together a brilliant mesh of character actions and motivation...but it's another thing to understand how that applies to real-life. To the everyday. Us geeks...I'd like to think we're good at that sort of thing. ;) Ah well.
There's ways to get around that, though. Learning about fiction, studying writers, and doing personal writing has all shed light on how characters are made and displayed. One of the biggest things that's become obvious is that characters are revealed bit by bit, in small moments. Just like people talk to one another, and find out about one another. Small bits...concise bits...is any of this looking familiar?
Bingo! Tweet Your Character!
That's the crazy idea here. What if, instead of having players write up backstories, they used "tweets" to convey different aspects of their character. They could write up a short blurb for each of a few character traits, and then write up blurbs during play to comment, and make character come out, as well as revealing backstory. Even if there's a backstory written, tweet-like blurbs can bring fresh looks at different aspects of it.
Let's take a look at a sample character. I'll pull something right out of my hat here...
Sasha Dreilan: Ranger extraordinary. You may have heard of me, I spread word of my deeds far and wide. Warrior in the woods.
"They say she's some sort of fay, she has to be, dazzling as the moonrays, deadly as the serpent's smile." That's what they say.
Don't trouble me about the past. It's not worth revisiting. I'd rather look at what's to come. You can do things about -that-.
It does two things, really. It forces you to be concise, but it also encourages you to expand simple trait statements into things with flavor, and also to speak in the character's voice. Try it, see how it works for you.