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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *