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

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