Writing Improvement Squadron/Character Development

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Writing Improvement Squadron
Writing Improvement Squadron

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Bringing Characters to Life

Written by Captain Liam Frost

There is one thing that unites us all here in the Starbase 118 fleet, and as writers as a whole. That thing is the desire to tell a good story. And as we all know, one of the most important parts of any story is a compelling character. One of the best ways to improve any story is to improve the character. We’re all proud of the characters we’ve built, the relationships they have, and the things they’ve accomplished. So how do we improve on that? By asking yourself questions and challenging characters to grow. Here’s a few things to consider that can make a great character even better.

Relationships – We, as people, are defined at least to some degree by the relationships that we have around us. Even the most reclusive individuals have at least some interaction with the world around them. Our characters are no different. This is even more vital in a game where we are all writing the story together. So how we interact with one another can be a key way to grow your character.

Think about what other characters are saying and doing around you, and how other characters speak to you. How does your character feel about being given orders? How does your character feel about the different races that they’re working with? What does your character think about their Commanding Officer? Every interaction is an opportunity to explore and grow your character.

Character Flaws – From time to time, we all want to play the hero, the Superman to our literary Metropolis. And to a certain extent, our characters must be exceptional in some way, otherwise they wouldn’t have come as far as they have. But for a character to remain compelling, they must also remain believable. One of the best ways to do that is to introduce flaws to a character. Who among us doesn’t have something we would like to change about ourselves. It’s part of being human. Our characters are the same way.

So maybe you’re character is a brilliant scientist. How would he fare in a phaser fight? Maybe your character is a decorated tactical officer. But can he tell the difference between an EPS manifold and a waffle iron? Maybe your character has a fear of something, either real or imagined. No one is perfect, and no one really wants to write with someone who can do everything themselves. And even more than that, exploring a characters flaws, and even overcoming them, can be even more satisfying to write than being the one to save the day.

Challenges and Failure- Every challenge we face in our lives has an effect on us. Whether we overcome it at the time or not, we can always learn something from it. Once again, our characters are no different. When our characters don’t face challenges, they don’t grow, and they don’t learn. And a character who isn’t challenged simply isn’t very interesting to read or to write for. Challenges are the core of any good story, and without the possibility of failure, the story becomes uninteresting.

And what if your character comes up against something that they can’t overcome? One of the greatest learning experiences a character can come up against is failure. And how they deal with that failure can be a tremendous opportunity to grow your character and to have them learn something, sometimes even more so than whether or not they succeed or not. Don’t be afraid of letting your character fail from time to time, you might be surprised at what they learn from it.

Organic Growth – One of the worst things that can happen to a character is for them to stagnate. When asked why a writer abandons or retires a character, the most common answer is that there was nowhere else for the character to go, nothing else for them to do. And some of the longest lasting characters are the ones that grow from their experiences, changing themselves with each challenge that they face. It can sometimes be scary when our characters begin to change in front of our eyes, especially when they become something that we didn’t envision.

But don’t be afraid to let that happen. Great characters are the ones that are allowed to grow naturally, to become something more than we thought they could be. And exploring what our characters can become can be one of the most satisfying things you can do as a writer. So don’t hold your character back. Let them grow and evolve. You might just find them becoming something even better than you imagined.

Characters are the most important element of a story. Without them, all you have is a scene. Characters make the story. And in any good story, the characters change, learn and grow from the the experiences the go through, and that’s what makes them compelling. Our characters must be at least a little bit extraordinary, that’s what makes them worth creating in the first place. But to keep them interesting, they have to be relatable. The most popular characters are the ones that we can see a little of ourselves in, for better or for worse.

25 Character Questions to Bring Your Character to Life

Written by Fleet Captain Diego Herrera

We all get stuck sometimes and need a jump start when it comes to really giving depth to our characters. To help you along, these 25 questions have been compiled and can help you put your mind on the right track. We all want to let our characters grow and become beings of their own. To aid in the creation of characters who really are intriguing, answer the following and see where you end up!

  1. What physical limitations does your character have? If they do not have any, which physical limitation would they most fear befalling them?
  2. What does your voice sound like?
  3. Which words and/or phrases do you use very frequently?
  4. What quirks, strange mannerisms, annoying habits, or other defining characteristics does your character possess? How might another character identify them from a distance if they couldn’t see them properly or hear them speak?
  5. What is your earliest memory?
  6. What do you consider to be the most important event of your life so far?
  7. Who has had the most influence on you?
  8. When was the time you were the most frightened?
  9. Are you able to kill? Under what circumstances do you find killing to be acceptable or unacceptable?
  10. In your opinion, what is the most evil thing any human being could do?
  11. How honest are you about your thoughts and feelings? Do you hide your true self from others, and in what way?
  12. Who or what would you die for (or otherwise go to extremes for)?
  13. Who is the person you respect the most, and why?
  14. Who would you turn to if you were in desperate need of help, and why?
  15. Do you trust anyone to protect you? Who, and why?
  16. When would you argue people and when would you avoid conflict?
  17. What is your favorite color? Is there a reason for this?
  18. How do you spend a typical Saturday night?
  19. How do you deal with stress?
  20. What are your pet peeves?
  21. What is your greatest strength as a person?
  22. What is your greatest weakness?
  23. What are your reasons for being an adventurer (or doing the strange and heroic things that RPG characters do)? Are your real reasons for doing this different than the ones you tell people in public? (If so, detail both sets of reasons…)
  24. If you knew you were going to die in 24 hours, name three things you would do in the time you had left.
  25. If you could, what advice would you, the player, give to your character? (You might even want to speak as if he or she were sitting right here in front of you, and use proper tone so he or she might heed your advice…)

The Art of Conflict

Written by Lieutenant Commander Colt Daniels and Fleet Captain Diego Herrera

From the very beginning of our “simming careers” at Starbase 118 we are encouraged to explore and advance the given plot through interaction with other writers. It is a concept that is absolutely essential to keeping our stories fresh and interesting, as well as keeping our fellow writers involved with the narrative threads that we generate ourselves. Sometimes we have a far reaching story arc planned in our minds and when we involve another writer it can quickly deviate from what we’ve planned and take us to exciting and unexpected places. This concept is central to the continuing success of our respective sim groups and contributes the feeling of being a part of a larger story, and not the sole storyteller.

While our interactions with other characters are positively essential to our development, we can’t possibly anticipate with absolute certainty how another character is going to react to a given interaction, or sometimes we can even place our characters at odds with each other intentionally. These interpersonal conflicts can give us a great opportunity to discover and develop facets of our characters that are seldom seen. Will your character try to resolve the conflict and right any perceived wrongs? Or will he ‘stand his ground’ and refuse to submit? These are just a few of the many different avenues we can explore, the possibilities are nearly limitless.

It’s important to approach such things from your character’s point of view. What matters to them the most? What pushes their buttons? In which scenarios is your character likely to lose their cool. Once you’re comfortable with those issues, it’s worth thinking about how your character expresses their anger, irritation or annoyance. Do they go straight for the jugular, or do they skirt around the issue? Will they back down if challenged, or will they cave? How far does the argument go before they try to reach a resolution and under what circumstances would they accept an olive branch?

Most importantly, things have to be as realistic as possible. Think back to arguments you may have seen in real life or in films. How far is it appropriate for your character to go? Are they prepared to risk a cross word against a superior officer? The more realistic the disagreement, the more your readers will get out of it and you may find it interesting to contact another member of your ship to see whose side they think their character would take. Are you deliberately playing the villain? Or the victim? Is this an emotional response from your character? When all of the dust settles, something should have changed as a result. Just like in real life, bonds can be strengthened as a result of a disagreement, or relationships can take a turn for the worse.

In terms of dialogue, it’s worth considering how your character might sound different when they’re in an argument. Exchanges between Starfleet officers can be quite formal at times, but depending on who you’re arguing with, this is a different playing field entirely. Disagreements with a superior officer might require an increased level of formality, whereas a dispute with a friend off-duty is more likely to be closer to what we would hear in a casual situation in real life!

While conflict is important and in many ways can be beneficial to your own ever growing narrative, it is important to remember to maintain a separation between IC and OOC conflicts. Just because someone’s character isn’t too fond of yours, doesn’t mean that the writer harbors any animosity towards you. If you suspect that there may be any confusion over your intentions, it never hurts to send your fellow writer a friendly OOC e-mail complimenting them on their latest sim and letting know that there are “no hard feelings”. Indeed, planning an in-character conflict in advance through out-of-character mails, or writing via JP can even enhance the quality of your writing! The experiences that we build together are what makes simming in the Starbase 118 so special and with careful and deliberate use of character interaction and conflict, we can keep our stories fresh and exciting for as long as we want!

Love is in the Particle-Scrubbed Air

Written by Vice Admiral Hollis Calley

Birds and Bees

  • “I never been fond of fast relationships in real life, and I am the same way IC.”
  • “I got involved in a relationship (in the game) early on. I’ll never do that again.”
  • “I am almost as picky about IC relationships, as I am about real life relationships.”

Relationships in character can be a great source for character development and interesting situation. After all, nothing is as purely social and emotional as a relationship. Still, as the above quotes suggest, relationships can be as tricky IC. Each of the quotes come from experienced simmers from two different groups I belong to.

What follows is a short primer on ‘Love’ in the hope of helping YOU sim relationships well and avoid common pitfalls.

No Nasty Stuff!

First thing to remember is that we’re a PG-13-rated site. That means: no swearing, no hyper-realistic violence, and of course, no sex! Keep the intimate, steamy details inside the bedroom and end a scene before you get that far. If you are worried a sim does too much, email the ship’s command staff. I’ve written up several graphic examples of what you should NOT sim, but our pesky editor gave the thumbs down.

Take it Slow, Baby

The great thing about relationships is that they allow a character to explore life. Couples meet, get to know each other, develop affection, commit to each other, and if so inclined: reproduce (*ahem*). Then comes moving into a new place, watching off-spring mature, growing apart, and divorce. Or maybe you stay together and die of old age.

Either way, this should not all happen in the first week of simming, or even in the first month. The best IC relationships take time. Rare is love at first sight. Plan on the relationship taking several months to get to the first kiss. Sim meeting the family for the first time. Talk about commitment. Assume the first intimate contact will be after a couple missions. In the end you will have a more realistic and mature IC relationship. Or if you leap in with both feet and sim your character waking up and going, “OH my what did I just DO!” then comes the process of slowly over the course of months figuring out the pitfalls of sudden romance.

Family (OOC) Planning

It is best to have a discussion with the writer of the other character before things go too far. Negative emotions do not always begin or end with the characters. If you are angry with someone in character, it is not uncommon to feel some animosity toward them out of character, and visa-versa. If one player is looking to sim a family, and the other just wants to sim a date, maybe they shouldn’t sim a second outing. I don’t advocate planning out every step OOC, but knowing what your partner in simming is thinking can never hurt.

Joined at the Hip

Relationships can be a real detriment to beginning simmers. At a point where players need to be interacting with the plot, and getting to know all the players on a ship, they are locked in a room with their significant other. Sometimes they will even go so far as to ignore other simmers entirely, even when directly simmed to. Waiting till after a promotion or two ensures that you have a good base to start a relationship from. This is not unlike waiting till after high school or college before getting serious in real life.

Nor is it uncommon for simmers to become co-dependent, especially if one simmer is more developed than the other. The weak simmer depends on the ideas and skills of the other and never matures in their writing. At the same time, the strong simmer expends extra effort supporting this ‘partner’ eventually becoming embittered and vindictive. As you can see this is not a good situation. Pick your partner carefully, and don’t be afraid to end the relationship if you feel that it’s not going in the direction you had planned.

High and Dry

He doesn’t call. She doesn’t write. WHERE ARE YOU?!

This is a game and people are bound to leave it sooner or later. What do you do when the person you have been simming a relationship vanishes? Your options are limited and are basically: to sim them out of the story (death or dismemberment), or sim for them. As the character isn’t yours, you need to talk to the captain about what is best for the story.

The other possibility is that your IC significant other may move off ship your ship through transfer or promotion. Do you break up or attempt a “long distance relationship”? Following the other simmer could inhibit promotion and character growth. Make your decision based on what you hope to do with your “simming career” and how you think it will work out after the move. And, of course, be sure to communicate with your “partner writer”!

Inflatable Dolls

Sometimes the best relationship is the one closest at hand: Fly solo and create a PNPC! Some may say it is a bit sterile, but you can avoid every problem addressed above by doing so. A PNPC will do exactly what you want, say what you want, and allow a great range of flexibility. You can sim intense emotions like jealousy or love/hate without affecting anyone else adversely. An NPC is also a great choice for short-term relationships, or early in ones career.

He’s dead Jim!

Perhaps you have decided to kill off your NPC partner. Or maybe a real life partner has left the community, and the captain has decided to give them a Viking Farewell on a burning shuttle craft. Either way, your character has just been widowed. It is time to dress in black and sim grief. It takes a long time for powerful feelings to fade, usually years. You should not be getting involved in another relationship right away, and when you do, memories of that person will still be there. I suggest simming strong grief for a mission, and then scaling the emotion back over the course of the next couple missions. Once again sim at a measured pace.

Um… what is that?

Recently on the OOC boards in the “Aliens” forum, there was a brief discussion on Xenobiology. Specifically, it was about interspecies reproduction. Problems of anatomy aside, it is highly unlikely DNA from species separated by hundreds of light years, and millions of years of evolution would be compatible. Even very closely related species like the donkey and horse produce a sterile offspring: the mule. Still, Star Trek is a universe of miraculous technology. It is likely ways could be found to artificially mingle DNA. When simming a pregnancy, be sure to take in to account the need for artificial assistance between species, and potential damage to the mother. These are wonderful plot developments, and add some much needed character development. Consider how your character would feel if he or she came to the realization that even with modern science, something has gone wrong with your child – or the child’s mother?

Boldly Go Where No Person Has Gone Before?

Even in The Original Series we saw that possibilities varied for future relationships: Spock was half Vulcan, Cochrane was discovered alive and in the arms of an energy being, and Kirk had seemed to fall in love with every alien who saw him shirtless. Don’t be afraid to explore the possibilities of relationship. Most relationships I see are between comfortably humanoid, gender-differentiated species. Star Trek is in part about pushing the envelope, and expanding horizons! Relationship’s have the same potential for exploration as the Final Frontier.