Character Creation Tutorial 1 Developing Believable Backgrounds

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How to Develop a Believable Background

Welcome to the world of play by email role playing! This guide is for old and new gamers alike who struggle with developing strong and believable character backgrounds. By keeping the following in mind, we hope it will be easier for you to create a character that will easily bring our stories to life throughout your simming experience. Let's get started!

The first step to developing the kind of character you wish to play is by asking yourself questions from the perspective of the character. Let the character write its history, and you'll already be ahead of things. At the same time, putting yourself in your character's shoes can be the hardest part because you have to ask so many questions from their perspective to gain the level of depth you see in strong well established characters. Always remember, this is to get you started and you should always leave some open ended questions and leave room for improvement and development over time. You don't have to answer everything now, and not every question you answer here will stay the same over the course of your character’s life. Also, your character doesn’t need to be extreme or even dark in order to be interesting. There are other methods of character generation, a couple of which are mentioned below.

Here are a few sample questions to get you started:

  • 1. What are you?
    • A. What Species are you? Check out our Intelligent Lifeform Index under Permitted Species for a comprehensive list of options.
    • B. Are you some form of Hybrid?
    • C. What gender are you?
  • 2. Who are you?
    • A. What is your name?
    • B. Where do you come from?
      • i. City/Town/Village on a Planet
      • ii. Starbase
      • iii. Space Station
      • iv. Ship
    • C. Do you have family?
      • i. Siblings?
      • ii. Cousins?
      • iii. Aunts/Uncles?
      • iv. Parents -
    • D. Who raised you?
      • i. Parents?
      • ii. Other Family?
      • iii. Orphanage?
      • iv. Family friends?
    • E. Quality of Upbringing?
      • i. Were you loved?
      • ii. Neglected?
      • iii. Secretive?
      • iv. Abused? - If you choose this option or options like it, remember that this is a PG-13 Game and while you can use it when writing your bio use delicate wording such as “Tina had a rough childhood that she doesn’t discuss it much because of the painful memories it harbors.”
    • F. Are you religious?
      • i. Not at all
      • ii. Spiritual - Believe in some higher power
      • iii. Casually Religious
      • iv. Seriously Religious
    • G. Further Questions can be found on the Character Creation Questionnaire

Taking these Questions Further

The questions above can be used to give you a background of a character until they have reached the “legally mature age for their species/upbringing”, which, for example in the USA, is 18 years old. At this age, anyone who meets the other requirements is able to join organizations like Starfleet. These questions also give you a solid jumping point should you have your character have other jobs and/or other education such as college prior to joining Starfleet. Remember to make sure your character’s age reflects any experience, jobs, and education that they may have received prior to joining Starfleet.

Remember that Starfleet itself takes four years academy plus one year for the cadet cruise so make sure to take that into account when you determine your character’s age. Also remember that you don’t need to reveal everything about your character in your bio. It is perfectly viable to pick a flaw then have something happen in character that explains it. Then, once it’s explained in sim, it should go into your bio. For example … “Del Sarcio was a respected merchant engineer, having plied the space lanes for over 40 years. But he felt a calling, and joined Starfleet Academy at the age of 66, still a young man for his species.” Always pick an age contingent with what they did before (a former CEO won’t join before 30 or so, for another example) + 5 years.

Sensitive, Yet Realistic Backgrounds

Many players write that their characters have suffered some trouble in the course of their lives, and some even choose to integrate a more sensitive background. Sensitive backgrounds can mean things that are horrifyingly tragic, brutal, and taboo upbringings that could easily be regarded as NOT PG-13 by certain segments of our fleet's player population. While it’s okay to include stuff like that into your character’s background and history it’s essential that it be worded diplomatically and with tact. Always remember that we have minors playing the game as well as adults from various backgrounds, so try to make sure that what you’re posting onto the wiki is worded well enough to reflect the fact that your character had a hard life prior to Starfleet. If asked about it directly for the purposes of a relationship, rivalry, or even a counseling session, always ensure to have open ooc communication with the person who asked, and save any email and correspondence to avoid issues or misunderstandings.

B Plots: An Important Tool

B-Plots are usually character development plots that tend to correspond with overall character arcs. These side plots can be either long term or short term plans for characters dealing with their personal or professional lives. Be sure that the plans you make for your characters can be changed at a moment's notice however, especially if they involve other players. Sometimes life takes our fellow players away and it's always best if you can easily disentangle your character from others.

B Plots are good places to flesh out the history of a character as they develop friendships, rivalries, and romantic relationships with either pnpcs (personal non primary characters) or other player’s primary characters. Don't be afraid to write B-Plots, but always keep in mind the PG-13 rating that our sims should all have. If you have to ask about a certain part of your sim in regards to this rating, it may be a good idea to adjust the scene to tone it down. That doesn't mean you can't explore all kinds of things with your character, but make sure to word things carefully and creatively, leaving your readers to fill in any blanks.

This allows you to make references to events while keeping you in the “safe zone” of what is considered polite simming. If you are unsure about a sim or plot idea, you can ultimately get another opinion. Don't be afraid to ask your CO/XO for their input before you run with it. Extra eyes before posting never hurt, and can in fact save you from trouble later. Remember, all in character actions come with in character reactions!

Any B plot can be as simple or complicated as you want like and can shed a great deal of light on just who your character is. B plots are the greatest resource you have for fleshing out your character both during missions and on shore leave, so use them to your advantage! Just remember to stay in contact with other players who are involved in any B-Plots you are running, and keep your CO in the loop should you have anything rather dramatic planned.

Other methods of Background Development

You can pick several main events in the background of your character to offer more depth. For example, maybe there is a specific scene you have in mind - eg “Amber looked down at the shattered remains of her family, as the mostly on fire house erupted in another flame of plasma. The Breen had destroyed her entire life. She vowed then to destroy theirs.” and extrapolate from there. Flashbacks are a great way to show this event, which can tie into a specific moment in your ship's plot, or you can simply write these events in to the character's bio.

Create a timeline of your character’s history with the highlights of their life. An example follows:

  • Younger sister born
  • Sister joined Starfleet
  • Sister died in an attack by a giant space amoeba, character swore vengeance

From there we can extrapolate that we’re dealing with an older sister, so minimum of 23+X age, and that she’s probably going to be a Tactical Officer or Security Officer with a family (and with a strong focus on family). This gives a player plenty of opportunities to bring their character to life with just a simple background.

As an example, I came up with a character named Eleanor Smith, aged 26, Security Officer, constant contact with parents and remaining younger brother (aged 17), who is not at all interested in Starfleet and is planning on becoming a holonovelist. Reacts strongly to situations where her family or ship is in threat, prone to rash and very cautious decisions. You can see how this kernel can be extended or grown to build an interesting character over time.

Things to Consider

1. Don’t overdo your education. It’s okay to have an MD/PhD and a bachelor’s degree in business/science/music whatever prior to joining Starfleet then double Majoring when you get there, however DON’T try and make your character good at EVERYTHING. Writing characters as bad at something can be fun to both write and read.

2. Always pick between one and three major flaws. These can be either physical or mental, but they should be balanced with the strengths your character has. Some flaws, as an example, could be special dietary restrictions, common life threatening allergies, physical disabilities, physical limitations due to previous injury/circumstances, infertility/impotency, or something else you come up with as you create your character.. Remember to make sure that your major flaws are not so small that they are completely insignificant or so large that they prevent your character from being able to do their job. On the other hand, if you pick no flaws, remember that you will more than likely want to develop one as the character grows. There are some flaws that will inherently come from social interactions and experiences as you sim.

3. Choose between three and five things that define your character’s personality. Examples could be that they are overly cheerful, obsessed with holo programing, they keep a diary written in Klingon...or anything else you could imagine. Bear in mind these quirks shouldn’t overpower the character, and shouldn’t be your “one thing”. One trick characters tend to be less interesting. Consider yourself and think about what your own quirks are before you try to bestow any on your character. This is the best example you have.

4. Choose between three and five words that describe your character such as crude, jealous, proud, etc. These words can help you in situations where you just don't know how your character would react as you get started in the simming world. You can expand on them later, but having them in place helps to create a solid foundation.

5. Be careful not to Mary-Sue/Metasim. We often see a lot of this type of stuff when it comes to telepathy and similar 'powers'. Use these skills carefully and remember that you should be highly cautious and considerate when using them. Don’t over power it, especially if you’re playing a hybrid. While things like telepathy can be cool to explore, it's no fun for your shipmates if your character can read everything all the time and there's never any tension within the story.

6. Communication is vital. In the event that you are building your character and you aren’t sure of something, showing all parties involved and or your CO/XO what you have so far is never a bad idea. Your command team is there to help you! It is much better to over-communicate rather than not contacting your command officers or fellow players with questions or ideas. Not only will this help you develop a better character, but it will also lead to connections within the Fleet that might be helpful later.

-- A special thanks to Lt Sassi Kax for putting this tutorial together.