Star of Ashor Proof update

Star of Ashor proof is looking good, I am reading through the book again in the proof form to double check my formatting and fix any last errors.

The first proof I got had some formatting errors that were definitely going to require reprinting (including a manufacturing defect) so I got a second proof.

There is something quite satisfying about reading a book in your hand that you wrote!

-T

Star of Ashor Paperback in the pipe

Good news today.

I have ordered the first proof copy for Star of Ashor’s print on demand paperback from Amazon.com’s kindle direct publishing.

I had to redo the manuscript in Microsoft Word to make it work properly; the manuscript I had made in Libre Office was simply not cutting it, and Libre Office lacks the features required to make a truly high quality manuscript.

If there is interest I can go over some of the things I had to do to export the manuscript, since it was not as straight forward as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, it was not too painful once I started to understand the workings of Word in that workflow.

The software pipeline I have found for self publishing is something of an effective, if, cobbled together chain; No single program has all of the features needed to do the job alone. I may go over the software that I use for writing and publishing at some point later but for now, know that the paperback proof is on its way and those interested in obtaining a physical copy of my work will be able to do so soon.

It’s been a long road thus far, but there is still no end in sight to it. Hopefully it will lead us somewhere exciting.

-T

World Building Master Concept: Culture (Part 2)

Last time we took a look at the Master Concept of Culture, we got an overview of the Think, Feel, Act model for approaching fictional cultures, which allows us to apply the three key areas; Thought Process, Social Norms and Conflict Resolution.

Today we are going to explore the ways this model affects how two fictional cultures may develop

A Simple Cultural Template

When we want to apply the Think, Feel, Act, model to a culture, it is sometimes hard to directly infer the impact of the stated facts about a culture we are creating. Sometimes, the implications of a particular social policy are very clear, but sometimes they carry with them a hidden impact that may not be immediately apparent.

As in our own cultures here on Earth, there are plenty of things that, to an outside observer have a very compartmentalized impact. On closer inspection many of these compartmentalized influences are much wider spread and important in their implications than initially assumed. This template aims to help answer some questions about how the culture we want to create will actually implement the Think, Feel, Act model of culture.

The template takes the form of a series of priorities and simple questions, which when answered, will help us flesh out how the culture will begin to grow. Remember, you will likely need to have some idea in your head about potential cultures before you can effectively answer some of these questions. As with any world building, there is a required level of improvisation in this sort of work.

Think: The founders

The founders of the culture are largely responsible for the ideas that shape a culture. Thus we will use founding ideas to represent the Think portion of our culture. For the founders we will look at Nature, Danger and Survival. These are simplified names meant to help us remember some questions about the founding.

These questions about the founding are more about the environment and factors largely beyond the control of the founders, This is by design. By placing the founders in a reactive situation, we can explore the logic and reasoning in their responses.

Nature
What was the environment in which the founders existed?

Danger
What was the biggest challenge faced by the founders?

Survival
What idea or action did the founders use to confront this challenge?

Feel: The Enclave

The first settlement of the culture was likely smaller or less established than the current hub. Perhaps the original settlement grew and became what it is today. In order to answer the questions about social norms, let’s envision the Cultural Capital or, Enclave, of this culture.

Questions about the cultural center will not focus on the explicit norms themselves, but instead how the knowledge of the founders has propagated through society (Tradition) , how the culture has dealt with disruptive individuals (Disruption) and how the society approaches obligations (Community).

For the Enclave we will select from different options, rather than the mostly free-form answers of the founding. Try and select among the options that best fit your founding ideals.

Tradition
By what method is knowledge passed from the old to the young?

  • Public Schooling (Learning from Generalists)
  • Tutoring and Apprenticeships (Learning from experts)
  • Familial Tradition (Learning in the home)

Disruption
What is the method for punishing people who are significant disruptions to society?

  • Executing (The culture really does not tolerate disruption)
  • Exile (They kick out undesirables)
  • Penalty (Law codes have to handle this on a case by case basis)

Community
How does the society expect individuals to act toward itself and other members?

  • Communal (Work for the needs of many over the needs of few)
  • Balanced (Work for the greater good sometimes, other times for person’s in group)
  • For me and mine (Work for a person’s own in group)

Act: Conflict Crystallized

Every culture inevitably comes into conflict with another at some point. The Act portion of the template is designed to help us find out how this conflict might have (or still might) occur.

For the purposes of this segment of the template, we will explore some opposing attributes of the conflict resolution factors of the culture we have created. When doing this we will want to keep in mind both the founding questions and the questions about the cultural center we have envisioned

Conflict Resolution Factors

(Rate from 0 to 10. 0 being 100% of the left trait, 10 being 100% of the right trait)

0


Force

Strength

Loyalty

Matter of Fact

Widespread


–Method–

–Tool–

–Appeal–

–Honesty–

–Aggression–

10


Negotiation

Friendship

Honor

Intrigue

Measured

Example Culture: The NovaCore

Now that we have explored a template for creating a culture using think feel and act, let’s look at how an important culture from the Star of Ashor novel would look under the template.

After we fill out our template, we will explore the implications of answering some questions in certain ways. Below, we can find the template in an abbreviated form. Refer to the above for the broader context of the questions.

Think

Nature: What was the environment in which the founders existed?
The founders of the NovaCore was founded on a remote habitable world far from the home of the species of its founders. The planet was seen as harsh but livable, with vast resource wealth for exploitation

Danger: What was the biggest challenge faced by the founders?
The biggest challenge of the environment in which the founders existed was ensuring proper supply lines from home during the founding. They feared the rekindling of conflicts on their homeworld that could disrupt this balance.

Survival: What idea or action did the founders use to confront this challenge?
The NovaCore aimed to become self sufficient and ind pendant as quickly as was possible. Thus, the NovaCore military forces who spearheaded the expedition rapidly expanded their training to all people. As a result, everyone in the NovaCore became well trained and disciplined in survival and war-fighting to hedge against possible conflicts

Feel

Tradition
By what method is knowledge passed from the old to the young?

Public Schooling (Learning from Generalists)

Disruption
What is the method for punishing people who are significant disruptions to society?

Penalty (Law codes have to handle this on a case by case basis)

Community
How does the society expect individuals to act toward itself and other members?

Communal (Work for the needs of many over the needs of few)

Act

Conflict Resolution Factors

0


Force

Strength

Loyalty

Matter of Fact

Widespread


–6->

<-4–

<-2–

–6->

–7->

10


Negotiation

Friendship

Honor

Intrigue

Measured

The Breakdown

Now that we have the NovaCore’s Template defined above we can get an idea about the NovaCore culture, from founding to modern day. Though this is an existing culture, the process is similar for any culture: the creator must come up with reasons as to why things are the way they are.

This step is a very important followup for the template, perhaps more important than the template itself. This is where we really answer questions, just like we do during our world building techniques.

The founding answers from the template above, as free form short answers are self explaining to a large degree. Therefore I will focus my explanations on the rationale of the subsequent answers. Keep in mind that I am exploring a culture who operates a nation with essentially a single culture. The society of the NovaCore largely focuses on its own culture above others. As a result of this, some of my descriptions make heavy references to the NovaCore as a nation. This may not be a proper approach for every culture, as not every culture is also a national power. I also tried to add interesting “edge cases” that I felt were implied by these answers as a way of showing just how broadly impactful each of the answers to these questions can be.

Why public schools?

As a highly coherent group, who have always had a need for shared common knowledge and experience, a public educational system was a requirement for the NovaCore. It provides them with education in both survival skills needed from the days of the founding, to the modern cultural glues and norms that all the rest of the citizens will be expecting themselves. The culture itself is expected to help educate the rest of its members and this extends to the mindset of all knowledge sharing.

  • Military Schools and academies are common due to a confluence of public education and a military based culture.
  • Innovation is a work of public ownership, everyone who can is welcome to innovate for the common good. This is thanks to a communal culture and a strong emphasis on knowledge sharing from people to others in the education system

Why penalties?

During the original days of the NovaCore it was clear that kicking people out of the fledgling colony was dangerous. Everyone was needed to contribute. As a result, even when someone was penalized, their effort was still captured for the greater good in some way except in the most extreme of cases. This also meshed well with existing legalistic systems that were carried from the founding culture of the NovaCore’s founders.

  • Criminals are required to work to support society and themselves regardless of offense.
  • Rehabilitation is an important part of the NovaCore justice system due to the emphasized value on retaining the individual contributor.

Why communal?

The natural evolution of the shared survival mindset made the NovaCore a very communal culture. The people of the NovaCore shared a common need, and, being so heavily tied to the military nature of it’s founding, the NovaCore culture also instilled this military discipline and brotherhood into its own members.

  • NovaCore tend to demonstrate a high social cohesion even to strangers due to a strong sense of shared values
  • People who consistently fall outside the norm are often given chances to find ways to contribute because of a confluence of communal culture and the desire not to discard useful contributors. By embracing the shared values of the culture, the NovaCore try to embrace each other as well.

Force vs Negotiation

Because of its relatively young age and size compared to other powers, the NovaCore prefers resolving conflicts before they occur if possible. As a militaristic society, the duty to participate in conflict is extremely broad and far reaching. Therefore, public pressure to negotiate is also high, since people want to avoid fighting. Internally, NovaCore rely on their shared loyalty and communal mindset to try and resolve conflicts with negotiation first.

  • Because of their already strong connection to legal codes, negotiation laws and protections are important to NovaCore.
  • Penalties for senseless / needless violence are severe in the NovaCore to prevent the improper wasting of resources.

Strength vs Friendship

The NovaCore tries to keep a strong posture as opposed to relying on friends for support. This stems from its beginnings as a frontier colony as much as it does from the heavy military influence in its daily business. This need is balanced internally by the fact that strong cooperation and loyalty to one another are cornerstones of the culture as well. Thus, in daily life, strength and friendship are closely balanced in this culture and as potential avenues for conflict resolution.

  • NovaCore allies are rarer due to their focus on standing strong without help, but they are a strong ally themselves as a result.
  • Because of a strong loyalty to their in group, NovaCore tend to make strong friendship bonds once the initial barriers to friendship are overcome.

Lovalty vs Honor

The NovaCore culture is expected to adhere to itself and be loyal to itself. This means that loyalty to one’s own in group is quite likely to influence how and when conflicts are resolved. Rather than doing what is always considered the moral imperative at any cost, a NovaCore is expected to weigh that against the needs of the whole.

  • NovaCore tend to pursue the safety and well being of their own culture over others, even when others may think it morally ambiguous.
  • Novacore try to be honorable to those they are loyal to, as a way of showing their loyalty to each other.

Matter of Fact vs Intrigue

Being a relatively small power in the galaxy, the NovaCore employs asymmetric techniques as a matter of course. They are not above ambushes, covert plans or secret operations and will often prefer these options if they believe it is lest costly to their own interests than direct open warfare. Even during wartime, standard operations will be heavily backed by secret and covert actions. NovaCore tend not to be dishonest with each other due to the strong emphasis on loyalty however.

  • NovaCore want to ensure they can win in a fight, but that desire is tempered when interacting with each other because of a strong shared and communal loyalty.
  • NovaCore tend to have a large covert operations contingent when dealing with external powers or cultures

Widespread vs Measured

The NovaCore has no interest in causing undue or broad damage to most of its opponents, thus, too, do its people feel the same way. Whatever method a NovaCore uses to resolve a conflict is typically designed to resolve it without causing too much additional damage. But once pushed to conflict, strength would be employed judiciously and quickly

  • Surgical precision and measured response work well with the NovaCore tendency toward covert conflict resolution. This could easily cause them grief with their neighbors.
  • Avoiding a large collateral damage to personal conflicts is a preferred strategy for a culture whose communal and shared values are such an important part of daily life

Culture and conflict moving forward

One can see from the above that there are implications still left unlisted by the above rationale and explanations. It is possible to explore any of these particular aspects and, especially when viewing it along with the others, come to more new conclusions about how NovaCore society may work or evolve.

It should also be clear that not all questions in our template have direct and straightforward answers. In some cases, there can be a rationale that provides for an answer one might not expect for a given situation. Whether it is in how the NovaCore deal with people who do not conform in a communal society, or how they view honor and loyalty, I think it is apparent that there is plenty of room for creative exercise when applying this sort of template to a fictional culture.

While one can explore a bit more about NovaCore culture in the Codex on this site, or in the Star of Ashor Novel we will use the template created here as a springboard toward future building on the idea of culture.

Our next master concept article on culture will get to one of the most important aspects of culture in showing how culture provides a context for conflict between broad populations, nations, and even characters. We will explore how culture can be an important factor, or sometimes, a defining cornerstone of conflict in fiction, and how we can improve our handling of culture as a tool for good world building and storytelling.

World Building Master Concept: Culture (Part 1)

One of the most important parts of a good fictional narrative is that we feel characters and the worlds they inhabit are significant, grounded in their own logic. They need to have a context for what is done, and what is said.

Perhaps the strongest tool for providing this context is one that is all around us everyday, something that we are all participants in. Everyone on earth is influenced by and influences in turn, the culture in which they are immersed.

Today’s article will explore what role culture has to play in the art of world building and why it is so important. Once those claims are explored, we will then talk about how culture can shape the various styles of world building that we have previously explored in the World Building Basics series.

This master concept is somewhat long, so we will cover it in multiple parts. First, we will look at why culture is so important as a world building tool, and then, in the following article, we will explore examples of how to use it for world building.

Culture is a contextual cornerstone

One of the biggest reasons culture is such a powerful tool in writing fiction is that it is one way in which the context of actions by people is provided. This is because culture tends to provide a framework in which a person’s behavior is framed.

Some behaviors are shunned, some are encouraged. Some thought processes are more common, and some are not. Culture has an effect on everything in the life of an individual, from the the language they speak to the things they say within that language. It has an effect on the foods they choose to consume, the music they choose to listen to and the entertainment they find enjoyable. Nowhere is this simple truth more clear than on our own planet Earth.

Every human being is contextualized in part, by the culture in which they are immersed and because of this, the way they behave and think is put into context by their culture. People from different countries tend to hold different value systems and place emphasis on certain social or personal actions with a priority that strongly varies by the culture of those involved. This sort of dynamic world is something that tends to drive change, cause conflict or sometimes, spur cooperation.

Because of how dynamic culture makes humanity, so to, does it have a strong affect on the realities faced by our fictional worlds and the characters within them.

Because of how dynamic culture makes humanity, so to, does it have a strong affect on the realities faced by our fictional worlds and the characters within them. When we consider culture for fiction, we should consider it as a tool to add the same kind of believable, substantial context to our fiction, as it does to our daily lives.

Culture creates the context of life

As mentioned, culture creates a strong context for our actions. But why does it do this?

To me, culture changes some key things about us that strongly influence the way we live. It does so in at very least, three key ways. I distill culture’s impact into these three categories specifically for the ability to use these concepts in fiction. They are as follows: Thought Process, Societal Norms, Conflict Resolution.

Thought process

Through repeated action, humans tend to train our minds to learn patterns that allow us to more efficiently execute a task in the future. This learning process, over time, quite literally shapes the way we think. When our culture teaches us to value certain concepts over others, we tend to develop thought processes which prioritize those values as well.

This process goes beyond actions alone, but gets to the fundamental of who a person is. It shapes them from a deep level and modifies the way the world appears to them. Because of this change to the way someone’s thoughts are modified by culture, it becomes an extremely important tool for world building and storytelling at large.

Thought process is the most fundamental of the three concepts as it happens before all of the others.

Social norms

Another way that culture should affect a world or it’s people lies in the way that culture essentially determines what is and what is not normal or standard. Culture establishes this baseline, and while it may move or change over time, even the way it must be moved is directly impacted by the culture in question.

Because fiction tends to tell the interesting story about the situation that is beyond normal in some way, culture will therefore have something to say about what goes on or why.

It is not just plot, but character choices and interactions with each other that are largely determined by these norms. When one character performs an action it may produce wildly varying results based on what the cultures of the observers are. At a fundamental level these norms have a strong impact on how our world is built.

Societal norms arise from the way people think and, therefore, tend to act. Thus societal norms follow thought process.

Conflict Resolution

One of the key ways our culture influences us is that it has a direct impact on what we come into conflict with, and perhaps more importantly, how we choose to resolve those conflicts.

Often times it is the reaction and response to a conflict that is the greater driving force in how its consequences are felt, than the original conflict itself.

Often times it is the reaction and response to a conflict that is the greater driving force in how its consequences are felt, than the original conflict itself. Because culture has such a strong influence over these attributes of any given individual, it has a massive impact on the way stories are told and the way plots are shaped. It should be obvious then, that culture’s effects on conflict resolution have a very important role to play in fiction.

Conflict resolution is listed last here as the conflicts generally arise in response to thought process. Macroscopic conflicts often result from conflicting societal norms. Thus, a culture’s method of conflict resolution is tested.

Think, Feel, Act

The above trio of concepts is a set of things that I shorten to ‘Think, Feel, Act’

Thought process corresponds to the way people Think, Societal or Social norms, influence how people Feel about any given thing that they see, and how people Act to resolve conflict rounds out the trio.

Whether we are world building in a character or conflict centered capacity, or even in a world centric way, we need to understand the impact of this trio of concepts on every individual that is going to be shaping our world build.

Exceptions which are rules, are not exceptions

One of the important parts of culture when writing is that when we make choices about a culture and the way it influences people, we remain consistent. As I emphasized in the world building basics series we have to try and keep consistency when world building or our setting and narrative start to weaken considerably.

Further, when developing characters, consistent and believable adherence to the world we create in our world building, can be the difference between an annoying character who stands out for the wrong reasons, and a compelling addition to the narrative.

If one has a culture of violent warriors for example, a character who resolves their conflicts peacefully, or does not want to fight is immediately out of the ordinary.

It would not be a stretch to say that such a character would likely face some severe discrimination or dissatisfaction from members of their own culture for such stances or behaviors. This brings us to an important rules for writing when it comes to culture:

  • Do not create a culture whose norms you are not willing to uphold in your work.
  • If you make a ubiquitous exception for a rule, it is not a rule anymore.
  • Every exception to a cultural rule has consequences, no matter how small.

If you constantly break the norms that your cultures establish in your own fiction, you will actively damage the work as a whole.

The culture of a large, unstoppable empire who enslaves its enemies is imposing when one considers how scary being attacked by this empire would be for those who cannot escape. It is far less imposing if every member of the empire whom the creator reveals to the reader is actually someone who plans to liberate all the captive slaves that their family owns and treats them with love, respect and compassion.

That is not to say that there cannot be propaganda or misinformation that has shaped the surrounding people’s views of this empire, but remember that you, the writer, define what is the true nature of the imperial culture. If you define it as brutal and slave holding, you cannot also make it made of sympathizers too. In that case the sympathizers are the culture instead, and the narrative about brutal slaveholders being the prevailing culture no longer seems realistic or believable.

If you are making a culture that has strong views about sexual or gender roles for example, you cannot simply have the main character be outside of the norms for these roles without some kind of consequence to the way the story is shaped or the way the surrounding culture perceives them.

If you feel completely averse to a particular cultural concept or idea, it is best to use the tried and true world building methods we have outlined previously, to find an alternative: Ask Questions and explore the implications of their answers.

Creating a world build does not mean you are immersed in the beliefs held by individuals you are writing about anymore than a historian who studies history is a follower of whomever they are studying.

If however, you find a concept or idea too difficult to adhere to when creating a culture because it makes you uncomfortable, the answer is simple: Do not include it. Find a different way to solve the problem.

Culture Creation

In the next article on the culture master concept, we will take what we have explored here and try to see how it can shape our various world building techniques. By doing so, it is my hope that you will be empowered to leverage rich cultural histories in your world building.

While building a culture inside our world builds follows most of the same question and answer concepts we are familiar with, the collections of ideas that go into a particular culture have lasting and strong impacts on any build and we owe it to ourselves as creators to better understand how to apply culture to our fiction.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series!

Star of Ashor Amazon Ebook Release Pending!

Well, it has been a long road, one I am ready to hit a milestone in but one I am extremely nervous about. There are so many hoops to jump through with setting up your stuff for electronic sale that sometimes it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Today I am hopeful to announce that my Amazon Kindle edition of Star of Ashor is under review for digital distribution on Amazon.com. I know that this is something almost anyone with some time and will power can accomplish these days, but for me it feels like a milestone is in the making anyway.

To celebrate, I decided to put the cover art that will grace the digital edition of Star of Ashor here on the blog so you can take a look at it.

I am excited and nervous for the next steps moving forward, I have had a hard time with staying motivated through all of these extra parts.

I hope as many people as can, will be able to discover this story. I know that I am an independent author, but I have real faith in this story and its characters. I am confident that those who read it will enjoy it almost as much as I did writing it!

Once we get some of this under way, the rest of the gears should start turning again. What does that mean for you? Well simply put, it means the Codex will start running again, and the Writing Blog entries will resume as well. Stay tuned for more updates and links to the Star of Ashor Amazon listing.

-T

Setting up with online merchants

Update today,

I’ve been working hard on getting all of the behind the scenes stuff going to set up the first of the merchant accounts I need to make. There is a lot of extra work in setting up for the sale of e-books that must be done in order to make it all possible.

To be honest, this part is harder for me than actually writing books. I am much more interested in the writing part personally.

This extra stuff however, is necessary so it is something that I will be taking care of. Some of it just takes time and if I try to take all of it on at once it gets a bit overwhelming.

I will be starting up again with the codex entries again soon, but the writing blogs themselves will still be waiting till all of this is worked out.

I will probably make a post or two on the “extras” i had to do past the writing stage because it could be useful information to people planning to write their own stuff.

-T

Book Artwork

HI all,

Temporarily not doing writing blog because I’m focusing on doing the cover art for Star of Ashor! I will be posting the update of the cover art image soon so keep your eyes peeled.

The next writing blog entries will probably start once I get Star of Ashor onto some digital storefronts. I estimate this could take a couple weeks to accomplish. Until then, the regular writing blog and codex might be more sparse.

-T

The Tier 4 Jump: Up-tiering (Part 3)

Welcome to the final part of this character creation and up-tiering workshop. Last time we discussed the idea of the character personality and the importance of finding a way to give life to the characters we create. We went over some of the ways in which we put effort into the character growth process to improve our character to Tier 3 from Tier 2.

Leveraging the Interview style of character building, we were able to take our existing character and start to add depth and personality to them. While the interview style is not the only way to bring a character toward Tier 3 from the previous, it is an effective one.

One part of our process that we have kept in our heads for most of the time we’ve been building, is the idea of using an existing world. This is something we discussed most heavily in part 1 of this workshop series.

When we use an existing world we give ourselves a big advantage in many ways, for building characters that feel grounded and believable, but it is important to note that just because we are putting those characters into a more fleshed out setting, we are not gaining an uninhibited superpower of creation.

Quite the contrary, when building in an existing world we are actually constraining ourselves more than we are freeing ourselves. At first this sounds counter-intuitive, but in this article I will explain why this is so very important for raising our character’s tier beyond Tier 3, and also, why it is that we want this constraint.

Context Matters

When a character is created we tend to view them as a blank slate, and as we build them up, they start to take the form that we, the creator are choosing. However, one thing that differs for us versus our creations are the simple and unavoidable realities of life.

As human beings our unique experiences and challenges shape the way we view the world and they impact who we are, how we think and what we decide to do with the time we have been given to live.

When we talk about characters however, we tend to envision them with a timelessness that allows them to be whatever we dream them to be.

If we examine our own lives, this is actually counter to how we experience life and the events around us. When we approach our characters in this vacuum of timelessness, they tend to feel like they may lack depth and nuance. This does not mean that they are bad characters per se, but it can speak to the fact that they may have need of more growth in order to provide the strength to be a narrative focus in the future. This is one of the things that separates Tier 3 characters from Tier 4 characters.

So how do we avoid putting characters into a vacuum of timelessness? How do we make them feel like they are living breathing parts of a narrative?

Simple, we let them live life in the world that’s been created.

Context provides strength under plot scrutiny

The concept of a character living life may sound odd to the uninitiated, but bare with me. As I mentioned in the character tiers article, there comes a point where character’s need to start having the context of a world to feel strong in a narrative. This key concept was called ‘Plot scrutiny’

When a character is resilient under plot scrutiny, they do not generate disjointed reactions from an audience where a lesser character likely would. When they are strong under plot scrutiny, they tend to carry the importance of a narrative with them and the gravity of events within that narrative feels stronger to the reader than it otherwise would.

A character who is strong under plot scrutiny is not only strong themselves, but makes the entire narrative stronger too, providing much needed glue to established world building.

A character who is strong under plot scrutiny is not only strong themselves, but makes the entire narrative stronger too, providing much needed glue to established world building.

Conversely a character who is weak under plot scrutiny tends to act as a solvent on the glue of an otherwise coherent story or world. They cause cracks to appear and they make other, stronger characters and their world, look weaker than they are.

This concept can sometimes be seen in media. If you have ever watched a show, read a book or played a game, there’s a chance you’ve seen or met one character who just felt ‘off’ for some reason in the context of everything else. While it is hard to objectively define what makes a character fail plot scrutiny, when we notice it, it’s almost impossible to ignore.

Generating characters who pass plot scrutiny is therefore, one of the key cornerstones of character building and indeed, is one of the steps which is required for a Tier 3 character to be classed as Tier 4.

Let’s take our created character, Kelem ‘Black Viper’ Shae’Lun from the previous two articles in this series and explore how we ensure that his character has a context to allow this growth and help him pass plot scrutiny

Apply the world to the character

In order to let our character have life and feel believable, it is important to understand what form that life is going to take. With every character design it may take a different form. For today’s article we are going to focus on the process of creating a ‘backstory’ that allows us to integrate knowledge of our existing world into the design choices we have thus far made.

As I mentioned in prior articles there are sometimes points at which our design choices such as a personality trait or physical characteristic, conflict with a backstory. Resolving these conflicts is essential and we will discuss how to do so after we come up with a backstory at all.

The creation of a good backstory can be one of the hardest parts of the character creation process, but also provides a much needed insight.

It is made easier, when we have existing information about our character and the Tier 2 and Tier 3 steps of our building have provided some much needed pointers to that end.

I am going to re-iterate both the Tier 2 and Tier 3 lists of qualities and traits we came up with below, and after that we will see how these are actually useful signposts in creating a backstory.

  • Physical / Aesthetic
    • Hil’Raigh, Male
    • Looks unassuming for a Hil’Raigh military role
    • Longer hair
    • Light red/orange hair
    • Facial hair
    • Often seen wearing a hat of some kind
  • Personality & Background
    • Formerly part of a national (Akal’Maru) naval special operations division
    • Single, unmarried
    • Loves to barbecue
    • Likes zero gravity sports
    • Likes oil painting
    • Cynical
    • Macabre sense of humor
    • Largely Calm, aggressive when provoked
    • Goes by his “code name” with most people
  • Knowledge & Skill
    • Trained in many hand to hand combat styles
    • Knows how to use weaponry from all over the galaxy
    • Expert marksman
    • Knows how to operate many types of vehicles.
    • Licensed pilot
  • Mental Traits
    • Has an obvious feeling of brotherhood with other members of the Federation military.
    • Has seen some things he does not like to relive and that affects his outlook.
    • Is a bit closed off to strangers, despite being cordial to them.
    • A driven person who chases his goals.
    • Has some strong opinions on the way the Federation uses its military and force as a whole
    • Sympathetic to the Hil’Raigh colonies and the challenges they face.
    • Is largely un-phased by cultural norms
    • Problem Solver
    • Leader
    • Doesn’t like Corsairs and other pirates
    • A bit blunt
  • Weaknesses
    • Prone to self isolation
    • Dealing with some past traumas from combat experiences
    • Sometimes chases his own goals to the exclusion of others needs and desires
    • Sometimes bluntness causes trouble in his world
    • Has a hard time making new friends outside of military focused individuals
    • Dismissive of some people’s struggles or problems

Now that we have our character’s traits and abilities spelled out for us, we can start to take a look at some of the things we need to cover in this character’s backstory. Starting at a high level, we weave these lists into a narrative tapestry. Because we conducted an interview with our character already, I will also refer to that section for helping direction in the outline of our backstory.

Before I start blocking out any backstory though, I want to look at some key things that should happen in the backstory for Kelem. This step can take some time, don’t let it feel daunting. Anytime you come up with a new idea for ‘something that should happen’ you can put it down as a bullet point. It is good to order these chronologically if you can. After some close inspection of the lists, and the interview questions, I came up with the following important plot points. These should be the biggest takeaways from the backstory.

  • Kelem is an Akal’Maru Citizen
  • Kelem joined the special forces of his national military when he was younger
  • Kelem has had a number of combat encounters with pirates in his service life
  • Kelem founds Shae’Lun as a Private military corporation
  • Shae’Lun fights with more pirates and helps with frontier law and order
  • Shae’Lun fights in war with NovaCore
  • Kelem keeps an active role in his company dealing with the aftermath of the NovaCore armistice

These plot points make up the bulk of what we want to accomplish, but as you can note here, there is more that we have established about our character than has been put into these plot points.

Using the above as a guide, let’s refine that outline and give it depth. Below is the result of me combining more of the above information about Kelem, with the simple list I just created.

For our mutual benefit, I will include which list section that each of these sub-points was drawn from. This should help give you an idea of how I am engaging this process.

Important to note is that I also will tag some information with “World Knowledge”. World knowledge is information that is gained through knowing and understanding the world as it already exists. Use it to your advantage when telling backstories too.

  • Kelem is an Akal’Maru Citizen
    • When he was younger, Kelem was reasonably athletic, but especially loved zero gravity sports (Personality & Background) because they did not rely on a massive physique (Physical &Aesthetic)
    • Having an outlet for his energy when he was at a more volatile age, helped him develop a calmer more collected personality under stresses (P & B)
  • Kelem joined the special forces of his national military when he was younger
    • He was able to join the special forces because his driven goal chasing attitude (Mental Traits), combined with his problem solving nature, helped him stand out (Mental Traits).
    • Kelem showed exceptional promise as a marksman through his training (Knowledge & Skill)
    • Because of the nature of his secretive work life, Kelem never really found the desire to seek for romance (P & B) and his goal oriented attitude and focus on work made him have difficulty during the few times he tried (Weaknesses)
  • Kelem has had a number of combat encounters with pirates in his service life and eventually leaves military service
    • Seeing combat action tended to make Kelem more macabre in his humor (P & B)
    • Earns the moniker ‘Black Viper’ on early combat mission (P & B) and starts to develop a strong respect for colonial militias and their membership. He becomes an advocate for colonial protection (MT)
    • Kelem is eventually promoted to leadership (MT) for his role in combating pirates, whom he grew to hate (MT) and problems on the Hil’Raigh Frontier (Interview)
    • Kelem is involved in difficult combat operations that, over time, give him a somewhat cynical outlook on the life he’s asked to lead (P & B), this is exacerbated by a particularly rough campaign in which he loses some comrades (Weaknesses)
    • Kelem learns more combative hand to hand styles to prevent previous tragedy from striking again (P & B) and takes up oil painting as a theraputic method (P & B) but the scars remain and he remains somewhat isolated (W)
    • Kelem certifies with a very large number of weapons and undergoes pilot training for many types of non combat vehicles for deployment, landing and transport (K & S)
    • Quits the service eventually (P & B) (MT)
  • Kelem founds Shae’Lun as a Private military corporation
    • Driven to found Shae’Lun after several years because of his expertise, some connections and the brotherhood he has with military minded former service members (W)
    • Gives Shae’Lun goals in line with righting some of what he believed were wrongs with the military command structure he was a part of before (MT) but he is a blunt leader and that causes trouble sometimes (MT) (W)
  • Shae’Lun fights with more pirates and helps with frontier law and order
    • Kelem’s hatred of pirates draws him into a leading role with Shae’Luns campaigns on the frontier for a long time (Improvised)
  • Shae’Lun fights in war with NovaCore
    • Shae’Lun eventually fights with the NovaCore (Interview) as a strong supplement to Akal’Maru naval forces (World Knowledge)
  • Kelem keeps an active role in his company dealing with the aftermath of the NovaCore armistice
    • The rise of the corsairs and Shae’Lun’s dealings with them (IVW) shoves the Shae’Lun corporation to the forefront of public consciousness for quite a while (WK)
    • Losses faced by Shae’Lun weigh heavily on Kelem’s heart (MT), he decides to bring Shae’Lun into the arms business to provide customized solutions for the unique problems facing Shae’Lun’s operators (IVW)
    • Meeting a large variety of operators from various backgrounds and cultures helps temper Kelem’s cynicism and he starts to focus it more on large political and cultural establishments (MT)
    • Kelem decides to bring back the barbecue tradition (P & B) of his deceased military superiors used to like doing for his team and establishes local chapter barbecues as a regular event for Shae’Lun employees and operators (Improvised new idea)

For the sake of brevity, today’s article will not feature a written backstory for Kelem, (That will probably come later as a codex entry, maybe in the short form) but it should be reasonably clear from the above that not only is our character stronger having gone through this process, he feels like an involved part of the world we’ve created while simultaneously becoming more fleshed out and well understood.

Even going through the process thus far has helped me, the creator come up with an understanding of this character that I previously lacked, and almost all of it was from knowledge and understanding placed into our character up till now.

I also hope it is clear that the above benefited greatly from the fact that we kept our character grounded from the earliest days of creation. This design choice helped ensure that our character retains world continuity even now but that is not always the case. In some settings we may not have control over all of the world and it may drive character and world into conflict. If this occurs, you must either world build, or change your character.

Respecting creation

When you cannot reconcile your characters design or backstory with the existing world, it is tempting to homebrew an exception to the norm. While this works in the short term sometimes, it almost always causes challenges later.

If you are working with a group of friends or a smaller insular community that agrees upon the changes, then it might fly, but if you are integrating into someone else’s largely understood intellectual property with say, a fan character or a character for a role playing game, then you are going to have a harder time convincing everyone you deal with to accept those changes.

Even when you are working with your own world, be very careful to consider the impact that creating an exception for this character could have.

Even when you are working with your own world, be very careful to consider the impact that creating an exception for this character could have. Ask yourself if it will undermine some key point of your world or destroy the credibility of a story you plan to tell later, or perhaps, have already told.

Respect for your own world and the creation you have built up is just as important as respect for the work which others have made. (Respect does not mean unfounded or baseless pride and immunity to criticism however) Do not make changes to your world lightly for the sake of a single character.

When you gain more experience with design and narrative, you will find chances to make these exceptions in a more organic and sensible way that enhances rather than detracts from plot, world continuity and story telling. When used sparingly, these exceptions can be powerful boosts to a character and story, but do not overdo it.

Onward to greater heights, if you want

With the strengthening of Kelem’s character through putting narrative weight behind him, and adding real world context to him, we can safely put him on the path to Tier 4 now. allowing him to move forward and expand as a character.

From this point forward, most of the growth for Kelem’s character is going to have to come from active story telling. The creator of any character has to spend the time to walk in their shoes and bring them through their challenges and triumphs in order to create the emotional gravitas that is required to move beyond.

Tier 4 is both a starting point and for some characters, a position of station keeping where they can effectively contribute and help a story move along without damaging the narrative integrity to which they are contributing. Keep in mind that not every character must be reaching higher tiers but the options is always there at Tier 4.

Now that we have explored the creation of a character in an existing world, and showed how to use and apply the Character Tier system to them, we are going to pivot back to some more world building articles going forward. We will explore concepts that help enhance the world builds we do by exploring “World Building Master concepts”.

In that series we will cover more detailed topics like how to use religions or spirituality and faith in world building, How to better understand international and internal politics facing our fantastical worlds and how to utilize and build cultures which interact with and influence all of the above. I hope you enjoyed this series and I hope you are looking forward to more character design in the future!

Crystalizing a Character: Up-tiering (Part 2)

Last week we went over the process of creating a character from scratch with the purpose of eventually growing them through the Character Tier’s system.

For that purpose we introduced the character Kelem ‘Black Viper’ Shae’Lun, the founder and owner of the notorious Shae’Lun private military company in the Hil’Raigh Federation. One of the key points we wanted to focus on, and still want to focus on in the coming parts of our creation process for this workshop, is the idea of using our existing world as a basis in which we are creating a new character.

Like last week, we are going to be diving into more of the Star of Ashor setting, and when appropriate I will share information about that world so that even those who are inexperienced with it, can use this article to keep building on the last.

Before we return to Kelem Shae’Lun and improving his character tier however, let’s review how the characters at Tier 2 differ from the characters at Tier 3.

Introducing the personality

A Tier 3 character as discussed in the tiers article, is an important step in the evolution of the character. I like to think that Tier 3 is really when the character starts to grow in the way of gaining a personality.

While a Tier 2 character is largely a list of traits that tends to be defined only within the context of the list, A Tier 3 tries to improve upon this by adding mannerisms and opinions, ideas, and weaknesses the mix.

While a Tier 2 character is largely a list of traits that tends to be defined only within the context of the list, A Tier 3 tries to improve upon this by adding mannerisms and opinions, ideas, and weaknesses the mix.

When a character inhabits Tier 3, they are starting to gain definite behavioral traits. While it might seem easy enough to lump these into the trait list from Tier 2, one should avoid that temptation because of the clear separation of the roles of these lists.

One can think of the Tier 2 trait list as a design guide. If you or someone else were to draw your character, these things would have an effect.

The Interview style

While our list of traits from the Tier 2 article DID include some basic information about potential personality traits in the form of some liked activities, it did not give us a direct sense of who our character is, not yet. While we have those traits in the list, we know they are there, but how they express themselves is another matter.

For example, the character of Kelem is listed as cynical. There are many cynical people or characters in the world, and even in the Star of Ashor setting. How then does this help us? In order to better understand how any of the specific ideas of personality or behavior that we form for our character, actually influence their day to day actions, we want to find a way to connect with them. One novel way to do this, is through the process of a virtual interview with the character.

In order to learn about the people of importance in their society, human beings often interview them. They ask them questions about a range or variety of topics, sometimes simply about their lives and experiences, and sometimes about more specific situations such as the production of a large scale, popular piece of entertainment or even politics.

Human beings like to know things about the world and asking questions to other people is one way we learn about them. We can replicate this very natural process with our new characters, and while it may seem silly at first, there is an undeniable benefit to the process because it requires us to think about things from two perspectives.

First and foremost, conducting an interview means that we, the interviewer, need to understand or figure out what we would like to know. The second is that the interview forces us, using our creator’s cap, to think from the perspective of the one we are intending to answer our questions.

The way someone responds to our questions in the real world is as important as the answer, we want to capture this when we think of using the interview process.

The way someone responds to our questions in the real world is as important as the answer, we want to capture this when we think of using the interview process. For example, one may give an answer we like to hear, but the way their body language comes across may make us uncomfortable. They may say something we disagree with, but say it with such conviction or poise that we are forced to concede or rethink our position in response.

Your characters should have this same chance when you interview them but as was said before, the interviewer needs to know what they want to ask about before hand. With a fictional character in a fictional setting, how are we to know what to ask?

Use your existing world as an interview guide

The best way to ask the “right questions” to your character in an interview process is to use the world setting as a guide. This can be a real challenge if you have not got an established setting yet, however, in this workshop we are specifically looking at the Star of Ashor. This brings with it a wealth of information we can draw on. We can use the current events of this world to help us ask questions to the new character. Perhaps we can ask their opinion on a cultural trend or their opinion on a notable public figure. Perhaps we can ask them about the sports teams they enjoy or the culturally significant hobbies they undertake.

When we use an existing setting, we have the world around this new character to use for forming these questions and it helps us make sure that the questions better prepare our character for their eventual growth to Tier 4 as well.

Asking the right questions here will save us time later, making the process of improving our character more gradual, smooth and clean.

Asking the right questions here will save us time later, making the process of improving our character more gradual, smooth and clean. Let’s take a look at some Star of Ashor setting to give us an idea of what may be of interest to Kelem. Let’s take his status, job, background and traits into account and ask some types of questions. I sort of feel like there will me multiple categories of questions for him given his military background. Some interviewers might ask about his military history, others about his contemporary personal life and dealings. Others might ask about a specific thing he has done or said.

Let’s take the chance here to look at Kelem’s traits, and then come up with some questions to ask him from each of these theoretical interviewers.

  • Military Service Questions
    • Why did you join the Akal’Maru Navy?
    • Why the special forces?
    • What was your favorite part of miltiary service?
  • Shae’Lun Corporation Questions
    • Why did you start Shae’Lun?
    • How did Shae’Lun get into the arms manufacturing trade?
    • What is the goal of Shae’Lun in the modern era?
  • Contemporary Questions
    • Do you enjoy the single life?
    • Are you dating anyone right now?
    • I heard you like traditional painting, what got you into it?
    • Your sense of humor is called odd by some, what are they missing?
    • Do you like Kul’Raigh Kunir hats?

Once we have these questions, we should “ask them” by writing the question and the answer down. This interview can be as formally into role playing or as light and impersonal as you, the creator want. Just make sure you answer the questions in the way you feel your character would because this is the best point in their development for them to give free, easy answers to the questions you are asking.

Kelem’s interview

I decided to take Kelem’s interview in a semi serious tone. To set the context, I will be taking the interview from the perspective of a correspondent for a Hil’Raigh media firm, one who is doing a profile piece on Kelem Shae’Lun at the time of the interview. Current events at the time are set many years after the founding of the Shae’Lun corporation and a couple years after the Federation’s armistice with the neighboring NovaCore nation.

Interviewer: Thank you for sitting down with us Mr. Shae’Lun. I know you have a lot going on lately so we appreciate you taking the time for the interview.

Kelem Shae’Lun: Not a problem, sometimes this kind of thing can be useful anyway.

IWR: I wanted to start with some questions about your background in the military if I could. You enlisted in the Akal’Maru Royal Navy at the age of twenty, what brought you to that place in life? Why the Royal Navy?

KS: Well I guess I grew up on the holo dramas like a lot of my peers did, talking about the glorious naval service for the kingdom. That was probably the start of it.

IWR: You transitioned to the Naval Special Services Task Force soon after joining. Can you tell us about that?

KS: I’ve always been driven. After enlisting I found that my drive for that sort of thing was refined even further by the training. NSSTF became a no brainer at that point in my service. I felt like I could hang with the best, and I wanted to prove it.

IWR: Was that the highlight of your service? what would you say you enjoyed most about it? You are a pretty storied individual these days.

KS: I think the highlight of my service was helping to deal with the pre-corsair piracy on the rim. The colonies had a lot of trouble back then and we were all still getting our footing in rapid colonization so there were gaps. The corsairs changed that of course, but I think that the best part of our service was freeing people from that sort of hell formed out during the rush. We were the cleanup crew for it I guess.

IWR: Speaking of the piracy, a lot of Shae’Lun’s work these days purportedly revolves around the Corsairs on the front. It seems like you have a long history with piracy. Is that what you imagined Shae’Lun would be doing?

KS: Not really. I hoped that the pirate problems were going to get under control but when the armistice happened, we found ourselves in pretty much the same place, only the pirates had a banner to rally behind. When I started Shae’Lun I wanted something capable of doing jobs like I would do in the NSSTF, but on a more rapid response basis, and without the same kinds of beauracratic bullshit we always had to deal with.

IWR: Do you consider that mission to be ongoing success? where would you like to take Shae’Lun?

KS: Shae’Lun is doing what it was created for at this point, I am more confident in that now than I was after the armistice. Overall I’d say I’m happy with the direction.

IWR: Arms manufacturing is a good complement to that mission, what was the impetus for that?

KS: My people needed better gear than they were getting. Once we had the money, and I talked it over with the book keepers it was gonna happen either way. Sadly, too many of ours got lost before we got that far. I guess the upside is now everyone in the Federation has access to the better gear.

IWR: It’s been said you are a pretty private person, but I’ve got to ask, are you really single after all this time?

KS: Yes, that’s correct.

IWR: Ever thought about finding someone?

KS: I think a lot of people who’ve worked in the NSSTF would be married by the time they are out, I guess I am the exception to that. As far as seeking partners, I don’t know that it’s for me. I really enjoy being able to focus on my work with the corporation and the people we employ. If someone I met could really support me in that, I’d consider them, but I haven’t met that person yet.

IWR: Your hobbies are varied as far as I have heard but one that stuck out to me, because it is pretty uncommon for someone in your position, is traditional painting. What got you into that?

KS: It started as a coping technique really. I started painting portraits of the guys we lost for their families. Something about the process of putting the brush to canvas helped me put things into perspective, gave me some closure. I still paint but I have branched out a bit.

IWR: You’ve got quite a unique sense of humor I hear, but it seems like some in the military culture really relate to it. Why do you think that gulf exists?

KS: When you face death all the time as part of your job, you learn to get callous about it. Humor can be a tool to help you harden, but it also helps you cope. Sometimes you say things that people don’t get but the people who’ve been in your shoes understand them right away. I’d say I have calmed my humor down though, it was a lot worse right after the founding.

IWR: Shae’Lun is one of the companies that has ties to the Federation government itself, as a result you are subject to some labor participation restrictions from the Kul’Raigh, despite that, we see a lot of Kunir hats on the Shae’Lun personnel. Care to explain?

KS: I think Kunir hats are nice, I like them. They remind me of old world military caps so I tend to think they fit well, but it sortof became part of our look. With patrol caps like that, people know you are Shae’Lun pretty fast and I think that has helped set us apart.

IWR: Do you own any?

KS: I own several.

Application of the Interview

Once we have conducted our character interview, we want to digest it. You can definately see a myriad information there, some of which we might not have an explanation or context for. In these cases you have two options.

In the case of Kelem Shae’Lun, I, the creator of the character and his world, have the context here, so the interview makes sense to me. I understand his answers because I created the context.

If however, you find that your character is not entirely meshed or has some holes in their answers at this stage, DO NOT worry.

A bit of a disconnect is likely in this phase, and it is something that we will keep an eye on because it is to be expected with most character builds.

A bit of a disconnect is likely in this phase, and it is something that we will keep an eye on because it is to be expected with most character builds. In the case that we really want to explain the discontinuity though, it is also a good chance to world build. If you are doing an existing setting, this might be hard, but if you are the creator of the setting, world building to give the background to the interview is the better of the two options available to you when you have this happen.

Regardless, we now have an idea of our new character. While we have not got him down perfectly, we can look at his answers and try to ask what those tells us about his personality and behavior. The way we write the character and how they respond to the interview tell us a lot about them. Even when we do not yet fully understand a character, we tend to develop a writing style for them fairly fast. We leverage this now, and extract some meaning. This part can be challenging, but take your time and look earnestly. When I looked at the question answer session above I learned a couple things about Kelem that I had not planned on. The below list is but a few of the personality and mental traits that I picked out.

  • Mental Traits
    • Has an obvious feeling of brotherhood with other members of the Federation military.
    • Has seen some things he does not like to relive and that affects his outlook.
    • Is a bit closed off to strangers, despite being cordial to them.
    • A driven person who chases his goals.
    • Has some strong opinions on the way the Federation uses its military and force as a whole
    • Sympathetic to the Hil’Raigh colonies and the challenges they face.
    • Is largely un-phased by cultural norms
    • Problem Solver
    • Leader
    • Doesn’t like Corsairs and other pirates
    • A bit blunt

Looking at the above, I hope it is clear that while we came up with some personality traits in part one, the traits we are seeing here are borne of the character’s answers and are much more about his thoughts and feelings. We can look at some of these and we might say they could show us a weakness that Kelem has. Remember, weaknesses are an important part of the Tier 3 character, just as much as opinions and ideas. Looking at the above list, I think I have some ideas as to what some possible weaknesses may be.

  • Weaknesses
    • Prone to self isolation
    • Dealing with some past traumas from combat experiences
    • Sometimes chases his own goals to the exclusion of others needs and desires
    • Sometimes bluntness causes trouble in his world
    • Has a hard time making new friends outside of military focused individuals
    • Dismissive of some people’s struggles or problems

While this list too, is not exhaustive, it gives us an idea of where our character sits. When we take a look at the weaknesses, it is also important to try and avoid the appearance of all of the things listed there being “humble brags” rather than actual weaknesses. Once we have done this, we have a much more exhaustive understanding of our new character

Standing at Tier 3

Now that we have compiled a list of Tier 3 mental traits (and combined some of our Tier 2 mental traits) and also explored some weaknesses, we have a much better understanding of our character. In addition, because we wrote down an interview with the character, we have a good source on how they are going to deal with others in a sort of inquisitive session. While we knew some things about our character thanks to Tier 2, we can get a picture of how they interact, now that we have performed this work.

Because of this, our character is ready to be classed as Tier 3. They have a design and appearance. How they look (Tier 2) is defined well enough and now, How they act (Tier 3) is layered on top of it. Next time, we will explore the final tier increase for this workshop, the Tier 4 jump.

In the Tier 4 jump we are going to need to make sure that all of our character’s strengths, interests, thoughts, feelings and opinions, have a logical place in the world they inhabit. In the case of Kelem Shae’Lun, that means we will be making sure that his character fits in the Star of Ashor setting. We will trim, edit and adjust the character as needed, but we may also perform some world building to tie off loose ends if we so desire.

Stay tuned for the next in the series and we will continue the journey of creating a robust character in an existing setting.

From the ether: Character creation and Up-tiering (Part 1)

Today I want to start with a workshop article series about character creation. Having explored Character Tiers already, and having been able to explore the origin of one Star of Ashor’s protagonists, Tony Karo, I now want to try and go through an exploration with you, the reader, following some of the methodologies we looked at in previous articles.

Our focus for this workshop series is, as mentioned in prior articles, to bring a fresh character from Tier 1, to Tier 4 in relatively short order, through directed, goal oriented design.

In order to facilitate this design, I have settled on the idea of using an existing world which I have an intimate understanding of, that of my novel, Star of Ashor. (You can read a bit about the world here, explore it here or maybe just read the book itself)

I decided to settle on using this existing setting because I wanted to explore how characters can come to be in a world as it exists. This is an important thing for me because a majority of first characters in my experience, tend to be fan characters or even characters in role playing games.

I think the process of using and existing world would be greatly beneficial to readers who want to figure out how they can use existing worlds as a guide within which to grow their characters to a more impactful tier.

Aesthetics vs enjoyment

When creating a new character, it is a good idea to have an idea of the sort of role or aesthetic you want the character to fill. This helps not only with passing plot scrutiny later, but especially with aesthetics, we can use the mental image we create of a character, to create the list of traits that define a Tier 2 incarnation.

While it is not required that you have an “end goal” for the character up front, it is very helpful in eliminating some uncertainty along the way. Therefore, if you have an idea of this new character’s role before creation, or at least, possible roles they could fill, consider using one of them, rather than always creating a new role for every new member of your cast.

When doing this phase of your design, think of what that role implies about your character and what they may look like and how it may change their aesthetics. Perhaps this comes from the years of drawing, but I consider this mental image to be of great help when making characters.

By using this concept you can give yourself the direction you need to make aesthetic and creative choices later. It is often much easier to build a new character with a role in mind, than to create a character and then try to shove them into a role later.

That said, we should avoid trying to make every decision about the character as if that role is the only thing that matters, there are many factors that we need to consider when designing characters and one of the most important, is that we, the creator, must enjoy creating them.

If you are not enjoying your character creation, it will show through in how much depth or care you take in crafting them. It is always better to have a character who is a labor of love, and rougher around the edges, than to try and polish one you dislike into something amazing. If you attempt the latter, you will always fail, and if you choose the former path, you can always polish.

Leveraging existing world building

In the world of Star of Ashor, there are four Major species, sometimes referred to as “The Great Races,” The Hil’Raigh, Kul’Raigh, Novian and Terran (Human). The Hil’Raigh form the governing body in the Hil’Raigh Federation in which both they and the Kul’Raigh reside. The Novians are split broadly into two nations, and the Terrans (Humans) are a relatively new to space faring, but mostly single government species thus far.

Above: Princess Kirashira Ren’Tauru of the Starlight Compact, a member state of the Hil’Raigh Federation. Princess Kirashira is a primarily Kul’Raigh genetic hybrid between Kul’Raigh and Hil’Raigh species.

Hil’Raigh have a largely dimoprhic population while the Kul’Raigh have an overwhelming androgyny across their own genetic gamut. The Novian people feature a genetic and dimoprhic variation much more closely aligned to that of Humans.

All four of these species are very human in appearance overall, with some exaggerated characteristics present in the Hil’Raigh Federation’s populations, namely their elongated ears, though both species look largely similar.

While it is impossible to understand all of the cultural context that each kind of character could bring, I wanted to introduce this much here, as it helps us understand what kinds of characters we might have access to.

It is important that when we are building characters in an existing world that we carefully weigh whom we are creating against the established continuity that already exists.

In the Star of Ashor world for example, it would be jarring for us to create a new alien species solely for one new character unless we planned to introduce them as a species. This is especially difficult when one is creating a role playing character or a fan character for existing works. Setting a realistic expectation from the start will do wonders for our ability to pass plot scrutiny later.

A chosen role

When deciding who to create, I realized there was a potentially interesting person sitting in my mind for a particular Hil’Raigh, that of the primary founder of the “Shae’Lun Corporation”

Above: The Shae’Lun Type 1 Plasma Rifle, a product of the Shae’Lun corporation and the most common rifle in the Federation.

In addition to design and research for military applications, Shae’Lun has its own ship foundries, and other military manufacturing capabilities.

It trains, employs and deploys millions for private security, sensitive data recovery, support for general Fedeation military operations and even has its own private navy and special forces segments.

The organization is a rich canvas of interesting ideas that I would love to explore and as a result I think it will be quite fun to build a flagship character in their history.

For those not in the know, the Shae’Lun Corporation, commonly referred to as “Shae’Lun” (Shay-Loon) is an extremely large and powerful paramilitary organization. This organization is actually more powerful than some national military forces on its own and owns planets, ships, stations and even has its own jurisdictions.

Because of that interesting potential I think our character will be one of the driven, military minded individuals who helped found the organization in the first place. This will give us the chance to have some guidance in our creative decisions and also explore a topic that makes our new character design interesting, both key points in a smooth design experience.

Our traits

Once we have chosen the role we want to fill, it is time to start filling out traits. We do not want to always choose with the cookie cutter approach of taking only traits we think are typical of a role we may have chosen. Remember, this is a new character and especially in the early stages of design, the traits that we choose are supposed to be negotiable and fluid.

When starting out with the traits of a new character design, make the choices first based on your preferences for aesthetics and design, there is always time to adjust, trim and add to the list later in the design process.

The point of looking for a role for the character to fill is to help provide an important seed of creative direction that we otherwise lack. It is not there to cripple our imagination.

When we properly use our character’s role as a sort of sign post, we are free to make our way there at first by means of the trait list. I want to stress that while a Tier 2 character consists almost entirely of a trait list, ALL in depth characters have traits too. Remember, this is a first step and we need to have a foundation upon which to build a mental image, it helps us think of everything from personality to behaviors.

It is not an instant process to come up with traits. If you are following along in a way, with this workshop thus far, coming up with your trait list is going to be the thing that you take away as a sort of “work assignment” from this article. I spent some time coming up with my own trait list for this new character and here is what I came up with:

  • Physical / Aesthetic
    • Hil’Raigh, Male
    • Looks unassuming for a Hil’Raigh military role
      • Longer hair
        • Light red/orange hair
      • Facial hair
    • Often seen wearing a hat of some kind
  • Personality & Background
    • Formerly part of a national (Akal’Maru) naval special operations division
    • Single, unmarried
    • Loves to barbecue
    • Likes zero gravity sports
    • Likes oil painting
    • Cynical
    • Macabre sense of humor
    • Largely Calm, aggressive when provoked
    • Goes by his “code name” with most people
  • Knowledge & Skill
    • Trained in many hand to hand combat styles
    • Knows how to use weaponry from all over the galaxy
    • Expert marksman
    • Knows how to operate many types of vehicles.
    • Licensed pilot

For you, the wonderful reader, I took the liberty of trying to organize the traits into three categories. Physical / Aesthetic, Personality & Background and Knowledge & Skill. I do not think every trait list has to be made that way, but in this case it helped me organize my thoughts. Never be shy about organizing your thoughts.

Last but not least, in order to make a real Tier 2 character, we will need a name for our new individual. After much soul searching, a bit of thinking about my world and some careful consideration, I’ve come up with the following: ‘Kelem “Black Viper” Shae’Lun’

Congratulations to the Black Viper on his new list of traits!

Traits and more

I hope it is obvious from the above that there is room for some fun, or silly / unexpected design choices when making a character. One of my own favorite created characters for example, is one whom I decided loves all kinds of cake, not because of anything other than it was fun to draw them chasing cakes. The same sort of attitude should apply to all of us when making character design choices, especially at this tier. Make a character you are happy with.

That said, Black Viper looks a little bit light on the backstory, and we know very little about him still. If all we got from a narrative involving him was a rehashing of the above list, it would be a boring narrative indeed. Remember, this is what a Tier 2 character looks like, this is the level of depth they have. When broken down like this, it looks rather simple, but we can sometimes forget that our current darling character may be just this shallow.

Next time in this workshop series, we are going to explore what we must do for Black Viper to reach Tier 3. Keep in mind that as we start going upward in the tiers, we are going to start hearing more and more about the world of Star of Ashor to give us the context we need. I hope that by seeing this process play out, that each reader can gain a better appreciation for how to grow their characters. Join me again next time and don’t forget to check out the codex for glimpses into the world we are diving into