Character Growth Profile: Tony Karo

In the last article in the character design series, we looked at the idea of character tiers, a way to classify characters that I have come to feel can encapsulate quite a bit for anyone looking to design their own characters.

Periodically, in support of this series, I thought it might be nice to talk about how some of my characters started, what I feel put them in a particular tier and what I did to make them more complex and interesting. A process I would like to call “Up-Tiering”

If you are not familiar with the character tiers system I introduced in the last part of this series, take a look at it because you will need to understand the concepts there to make sense of this article.

Now, lets talk about one teenager’s silly OC (Original Character) concept and how it became a lead in the novel I wrote.

Tony Karo: My longest running ‘OC’

Tony Karo is a character that I have had floating around in my head for a long time. He is one of the main protagonists of the Star of Ashor story, but he was not always related to Star of Ashor or it’s history.

He was not always the person you see depicted in the novel, and in fact he had very different beginnings to what he became. It’s because of that, that I chose to make him the focus of today’s article.

One of the most important things for me about Tony, and why I wanted to share him with you today, is that he grew from something I would consider a very cookie cutter character idea from a middle school student.

One of the most important things for me about Tony, and why I wanted to share him with you today, is that he grew from something I would consider a very cookie cutter character idea from a middle school student.

As a character, I feel he has become a much more nuanced and interesting individual than he started as. His format has varied and some of his traits have changed or been abandoned. He gained some new perspectives during his journeys and in turn, he served as a way to unify a lot of nebulous ideas and world building concepts I had floating around in my head over the years.

Humble Start

The previous article in the series explained the tier system and I un-apologetically said that most people’s original character creations come up short of being that interesting. To be clear, I called almost all ‘OC’ creations Tier 2 characters, meaning they lack a real context and are mostly just a list of traits that the creator considers cool or interesting.

I will admit plainly that at the first time I conceived of Tony Karo, he was as Tier 2 as they come. The trait list was the biggest part of his creation at the time and some of it was related to other influences that, as a preteen, I found rather exciting.

I’d like to share with you some of the most important bits of Tony Karo’s character in the manner I defined them. Yes, it is a list of traits, like any other Tier 2 Character would have. It is also just as pretentious and superficial as it sounds. Look at this list and tell me whether you think this character seems very interesting off of the description of these traits. (I sure don’t think so.)

  • Black Hair, like yours truly
  • White bangs on the black hair, because that is what I was practicing drawing
  • Middle parted hair, (same reasoning as above)
  • Mid 20s male
  • Alien of some kind?
  • Wears a trench coat that is black with red trim
  • Has sword with fancy hilt
  • Cool headed, smart and capable at basically anything.
  • Totally a Dragonball Z character, who is just as strong as the main cast
  • Edgy
  • Some kind of martial artist who can shoot energy beams etc

The above was quite literally all that mattered about Tony Karo when he was first made. He was about as interesting as this list of traits is, with as much depth as the screen you are reading it on.

He had all the hallmarks I discussed in the tiers article: He was mostly a plot device that failed under any kind of story plot scrutiny and was extremely superficial.

Thankfully, Tony did not stay at Tier 2.

Stuck in Tier 2

Tony Karo was not the first character I had made at that point in my life, but he was the one to whom I was most attached. He was a sort of Dragonball Z fan character in his first incarnation.

A friend and I both worked at making our own characters, which we drew doing cool energy blasts and other powers. I took influences from the characters and media I liked most at the time and was always coming up with some cool thing this new character could do.

The desire to emulate characters I liked was all consuming and Tony became a ‘time cop’ because my favorite character in Dragonball Z was a time traveler too. Tony’s design was very heavily influenced by this character, both visually and in other ways.

Drawing was the first form of expression for Tony, unlike many of my other characters. He existed primarily as a drawn character, with story giving me loose reasons to draw more versions of him. The drawings were nothing amazing but they got the job done and kept my mind churning.

The biggest boost to Tony however, was the need for a meaningful antagonist which I provided in the form of a cybernetically enhanced warrior from some opposing faction.

While this antagonist was not himself a masterpiece, he started something bigger. He introduced me to the need for Tony to have a team, a group to be a part of, some organization which could support him. Conversely, his adversary also needed the same, and thus, my first character centered world build started.

This new world build was what birthed the idea of the NovaCore, a faction of time keepers who employed Tony Karo to keep order between timelines. While Karo kept the energy blast powers and the sword at the time, he was now rapidly shedding his fan character status.

Enter tier 3

The world build pushed forward slowly but surely. Gradually, the staples of external IP that had made Tony Karo in the first place, started finding themselves pushed out. Tony’s antagonist now had a name, Takell, and the two alien guys had it out for each other for some reason that I had not yet defined entirely.

Star Trek and Starwars had captured my imagination as a kid and as my world building moved along, the world that would eventually become Star of Ashor took on its own space opera. The nations and factions of course were simple at the time, but the foundations had been laid.

For his part, Tony Karo was still very Tier 2, while that list of traits changed or grew, the character had not fundamentally changed. He had not grown much but the door to that growth was opened only when I had finally decided to let Tony be his own character, not a direct remix of existing characters from someone else’s creation.

Tony Karo did not truly fit the Dragonball Z world or story, his destiny lay elsewhere. Exploring this new world and setting allowed Tony to start forming opinions and have weaknesses, critical advancements for reaching Tier 3. When Tony started being what I would call, a proto-person, he reached Tier 3.

The process of reaching Tier 3 is one that I think is really easy for someone who understands a character they want to make, but getting there is harder for people with a low amount of experience and so it can take time. It is important not to be discouraged by that.

The key question to reach Tier 3 is simple: “Why?”

The Tier 3 wasteland

Almost all characters die in Tier 3, at least in terms of development. Tony Karo was very nearly a casualty of the same wasteland. Even when we start asking why, in order to find motivation, that does not guarantee character growth beyond Tier 3.

To develop more, Tony (and any character) really needed a world. As with any character who intends to reach Tier 4, Tony Karo needed to feel not like he was simply a character with a backstory, but a character whose story had produced the person one saw. This meant I needed some real world building, more at least, than I had completed at the time.

The NovaCore, the Star of Ashor world, still did not exist, it wasn’t on his radar or mine. This world build was still very much centered on him and his efforts, his coolness and traits. While he was more interesting now, he was still stuck in Tier 3 and the things I was doing were not changing him or making him grow. His character development had stalled.

Because Tony did not feel like he was truly attached to anything around him, he would “fail plot scrutiny” and anything he did would feel like it had holes in it. Like many Tier 3 characters, Tony was stuck because of the fact that I did not yet understand how he fit into the world and why. I was asking about motivations and weaknesses, but I was not asking key questions like, “Where did these motivations come from?”

I was asking about motivations and weaknesses, but I was not asking and answering key questions like, “Where did these motivations come from?”

Asking that question is all fine and good, but until one has an answer, they will wander in Tier 3. Such was the case with Tony Karo. He spent many years in this puddle deep Tier 3 pond.

Escape to tier 4

One of the key elements that allowed me to escape from Tier 3 with Tony Karo was the addition of other cast members. Up until that point, a loose love interest and an antagonist were the only other people ever considered in the story. Everyone else was almost completely ancillary and unrelated to much of the story at all.

Truth was the product of this cast member creation and filled an important role. Suddenly Tony had a friend, a cause and a reason to do what he did. There was more to him than simply being a ‘badass’ because he wanted to help his friend. Truth in turn, would be one of the people in the world who really understood Tony, since I had realized that his focus or skill might have been a source of conflict between he and his peers while growing up.

While Truth herself was important, the character who really pushed everything forward with a massive jolt, was Kirashira Rentauru, the princess of the Starlight Compact.

Kirashira (named Kirashi at first) was an instant reason to world build. While my desires and goals for the Star of Ashor story were largely visual at the time, Kirashira required me to start thinking of things that were as yet undecided in the world building of Tony Karo. Through Kirashira I started exploring things like the political factions, nations and situations that made up the world. I started exploring species and peoples, varying cultures and why it was significant that Tony and Truth would even help Kirashira at all.

This world building, brought on by cast members, was the reason that all of these characters could keep growing. Now, they could feel believable or grounded to their situations. I finally let go of certain character traits for Tony, things I had kept for years and if you remember my tier notes, this happens sometimes in the transition to Tier 4. If a creator cannot let go of an unjustifiable trait or behavior for a character, they can never reach Tier 4.

If a creator cannot let go of an unjustifiable trait or behavior for a character, they can never reach Tier 4.

By providing a richer world for Tony, he (and the others) were able to grow. I started letting that world building take shape. Thanks to character centered world building, I did not have to change he and the others too much to make it happen, but I did have to start giving valid reasons for his motivations, behaviors, existence, skills, interests and everything else. This is why Tony reached Tier 4.

Tier 5 through narrative

One of the keys to reaching Tier 5, as outlined in my prior article in the series is through narrative driven growth. Specifically, the creator needs to put a large amount of time into the planning and thought surrounding a particular character. One of the best ways to achieve that investment of mental energy is by narrating and creating a story.

This is also one of the most challenging steps because it is a sort of rubber meets road situation and many may think that they do not have the time or energy to write say, a whole book about a particular character. Not all characters need an entire book per se, but the more energy expended, the more likely you are forced to put the proper planning in and round out any of the rough edges of Tier 4 that stick out and damage your character’s ability to pass plot scrutiny. This process is something that occurred for me while writing the drafts of Star of Ashor.

Writing the draft of the novel helped me to start understanding Tony Karo (and other characters) better but more than that, I was forced to put myself in the position of my character and narrate in a way as to make their actions, words, deeds and thoughts feel believable and rational. This is what I call “walking in their shoes” and it is essentially the process of building a personal understanding of how a character should behave in the situations they face. As a creator follows their character through these situations, the understanding grows until it is easy to apply this character’s behaviors to almost any situation they could encounter.

With Tony Karo, things like exactly how he acted with his friends or foes and way he would respond to disagreements were not things I ever considered until writing. While it may seem like these are small or inconsequential, these sorts of details add to a character and help establish them in the world.

When Tony Karo and Truth speak together, it is borne of a relationship that is well understood now, because of writing. This kind of growth is extremely difficult without writing and narration backing it. While the first draft may not have entirely defined this dynamic, I feel that the revisions of Star of Ashor provided the polish to reach Tier 5 and potentially push the characters further.

Tier 6?

The first thing I feel is important to understand about Tier 6 is that it has a sort of infinite ceiling. Tier 6 characters are a pinnacle in my system because of the fact that I do not feel there is a definite process by which a character can keep growing. Sometimes what works for a particular Tier 6 character to grow more, does not work for another.

The same is true for Tony Karo. I would like to say he is Tier 6 character because I feel he passes plot scrutiny and feels like a real person. I feel that the exploration of emotion that he has offered to readers or myself, has put him in a tier above what Tier 5 can really offer.

Tony Karo is a character who has passed through many crucibles and through narration both written and upcoming, he will continue to grow. As a creator there is more to him than I have yet explored, challenges he will face that he has not yet confronted. It is my hope that as I write for him, that I can put forth the sort of character that people can enjoy reading about and grow to care for. I hope that for each of my characters but Tony holds a special place because of his prominent position in helping to spark such a journey for me.

While not all my characters are Tier 6 yet, I want them all to have the ability to reach that place if I decide to take them there. Next in this series I want to start with a character design and use it as a basis. We will start with a Tier 2 Character and then use what we have explored in this series to grow that character. I will try my best to guide you through the process of reaching Tier 4.

I think we will stop short of pushing for a Tier 5 or more since I do not have the ability to write a suitably complex narrative just for these sorts of workshops. As we go, I want to try and emphasize the process and the steps that we use, that way new and aspiring creators, or those in need of a way to “grow” their character, can find a logical method of making the progress they seek. Stay tuned!

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