One of the greatest challenges for authors is developing unique characters that speak with their own voice. Observation of the world is tremendously important for this, but recently I've realized how much I'm benefitting from another element in my life - my weekly role-playing game.
I've written extensively on the benefits of roleplaying games (rpgs) here, specifically in respects to social interaction and personal development. Lately, however, I've been observing how much it is enriching me as an author.
I strongly believe that reading other great authors is the best form of 'studying' a writer can do. However, the one weakness of this in regards to character development is that (most of the time) every character in a book is written by the same person. No matter how hard an author works at their craft, ultimately each character's motivations are being developed by the same mind.
In an rpg group, however, while you have a narrative story run by the game master, each character is developed and played by a different player. This adds an element of unpredictability and surprise that few other mediums offer. (Stage and screen have some of this, with actors contributing their thoughts, but ultimately the story is strongly run by the screenwriter and director).
The other benefit of the rpg group is that you can discuss character motivation and actions -- not only do I get to observe how different people play different characters reacting, but we also discuss (sometimes) why they did so. This has been a tremendous window into human nature.
A week ago, my character majorly ticked off another character in the game. Out of game, we all agreed on the action ahead of time because it would be so disruptive, and everyone thought it was an awesome narrative choice. In game, however, it was INTENSE. And then we had to wait a week for the real big drawn out fight to happen! I had several days to think through how my character would react... I knew, if I were writing the scene, how it would go. What I didn't know was how the other player was going to have their character react! It ended up being little like I expected, but tremendously true to the character as developed. As a result, I found myself re-analyzing (again) how different people of different personality types react to the same situation, and am thankful that the RPG group gives me the constant reminder of this!
Anyhow, it was a good incentive to re-dedicate myself to really developing distinct, believable characters.