Jul 05

It’s All About the Characters

In part a response to my own homework assignment and a response to TToT14 Blog prompt #4 where we’re tasked to talk about our favourite characters. And why yes, I’m stealing from kes7 dealing with these two in the one.

Of characters

My character design process is rather organic in the beginning and then latterly. There’s a middle part in assembling the story that requires a little bit of conscious tinkering and design. Usually what happens for me is that a character notion takes root, almost nearly fully formed and I expand on that. The character notion may be:

  • the picture of the character striking a particular pose
  • the character saying a particular line
  • the character facing a certain situation and giving a particular response

From there, I try to figure out a bit more about the character. I’m not a nuts and bolts person. I don’t like to figure out their birthday and all of the back-story. I merely want to have a feel for the character, their tone and voice and to somehow have something that allows me to hook into them. After all, if I can get hooked into the character, then there’s a hope a reader might also then.

McGregor

With McGregor, the idea was this rather infamous, bombastic, not run of the mill captain. You know, the staple of so many fanboy fanfics. But I wanted to ground him to be partly believable – as in he could really be in command. The fact of making him a Border Dog appealed for this reason. The Dogs were rougher and less worried about niceties so a personality of McGregor’s type could exist within its ranks. Making him someone who came up the haweshole added to his rather unpolished edges. Throw in some hinted at event in his past that might excuse some of the unhinged actions and you started to have something that could work. However, to truly work, he needed to have heart of some kind, he needed to be able to win the loyalty of his crew and those higher up the command chain. More than that, he would have to be unorthodox but also produce results. Making him a sort of folk-hero among the border landers, the people who love along the borders adds to my mind the plausibility of his existence and continuing career in the Border Patrol and it suggests that his results do something for their everyday lives. And why should he care so much to make such differences to their lives? Nothing explicit has been made mention of but we are kinda hinted at the fact McGregor must have come from a border world and knows the lives of these people.

After McGregor, Molly Cartwright was more by design in that I needed an XO to keep him in check. But who and what type of personality would they be? Step forward Molls. When I decided I needed someone with experience and the savvy to put up with McGregor, Molly presented herself with beehive and scowl. So although I had a design brief she became something by an organic process. Indeed, the rest of the Kestrel ensemble developed in a similar fashion. I had roles to be filled but they started peppering it bit by bit (well quite quickly actually) and it was merely by design that I wanted interesting rough dynamics between the characters.

T’Vel

My T’Vel is perhaps is an exception to that in that I wanted to explore a Vulcan struggling with their emotional balance but not quite in the manner of Spock. Instead, I wanted it to be a struggle to do with events in their life rather than something borne of their heritage. T’Vel had to have some sort of reason to be ‘broken’. When the idea came to have had her suffer this horrible assault, it morphed into the idea of her having a multiple personality type problem but by virtue of Vulcan katras this was a literal multiple personality inside her head deal.

I wasn’t entirely sure of what her relationships on board the ship were going to be but it struck me that people would be protective of her, if from afar her being a Vulcan and all that. Molly and Judy immediately stepped forward as protectors for T’Vel. But what about McGregor? He had to have some cause to be so loyal to her and to shelter a potential threat to his ship on the Kestrel. That’s were it struck me then that her attack happened in connection to McGregor’s reappearance and T’Vel researching into the anomaly. However, I figured there had to be something more personal at stake for T’Vel herself and an added complication to matters. And so born was Ronak, the child product of the rape. It added new dimensions to explore and it upped the emotional imbalance T’Vel would struggle with.

Cyste Ryaenn

Ryaenn is in fact based of the character Caitlyn Ryan. This gave me a template and a back-story to work upon. Given that so much depended on the character of Caitlyn Ryan I decided that in fact Caitlyn is a part of Ryaenn’s story and vice-versa. In one reality Ryan lives and Ryaenn dies. In another, Ryaenn lives and Ryan dies. Both women have the effect of inspiring the other to survive. The reason for a change of character was because I wanted to still tell Ryan’s story of survival but I was itching to have that character in a later time frame in command of her own ship. Thus Ryaenn came into being to fit in with the universe that would become part of the Watchtower stable.

To differentiate her from Ryan, I needed to make a few necessary and appealing alterations. Firstly, I wanted to write an Andorian character after playing with AnKorr in Falcon and some bit Andorians appearing in Kestrel. A female Andorian of course was appealing enough of a premise but I added making her part Aenar to exploit the potential of her bio-electric sensibilities and it added a facet that would explain perhaps why Ryaenn survived the ministrations of her torturer. Where Ryan survives because she becomes a personal pet project of a torturer with a twisted agenda, Ryaenn lasts for so long because she because part of an experimental project.

The project allowed me to add physical problems for Ryaenn later. These physical injuries are hinted at to date but are to be a potential point of weakness for Ryaenn’s continued command as they may see her discharged as unfit for command. There are also the many issues of whether she is fit for command that may only come to light as she develops as a captain. Particularly so as she struggles working to help and protect Cardassians post Dominion War and working alongside them too in a future development.

Making her Andorian/Aenar also allowed me to shake up the usual antagonistic relationship with Cardassians usually portrayed by Bajoran or human characters. Also, by having Ryaenn part Aenar it means she may be more predisposed to being pacifist and willing to move on. However, how pacifist she can truly be given the lethal killer she became and the fact that she is much more strategic and coldly calculating in dealing with her enemies. We’ve seen that she can manipulate a situation by orchestrating a training session with Anjek in Duels that literally acted as a scolding session for any doubters on her ship to her new command.

With Ryaenn, I’m playing with the fact that her torture has made her a darker and colder person, putting her at odds with her former genteel self more at one with Aenar nature. However, I put in place characters like Ameren a fellow prisoner and loyal friend to help couch and ground Ryaenn. The organic process of story telling however has introduced in her tactical officer Lt. Anjek becoming something of a potential love interest quite unintended really.

TToT 14 WK 7 PROMPT #4:  What character do you love to write most?

All of them! Ok, so that’s an answer unlikely to be accepted I suppose. I’m going to have to decide on a character. It’s perhaps no stretch to imagine that I enjoy writing large, colourful characters. It’s because I know quite a few such personalities in real life. Despite the bravado and show of the surface, there’s often so much more to these people underneath all the show and posturing. There’s heart and compassion, or fears and doubts.

No wonder then, I write Tabatha Chase with such glee in her Rhapsody Rabbit Gavilán adventures, or that I smirk when I write Ameren’s light-hearted and cocky gait in contrast to the cool fierce temperament of Cyste Ryaenn. And of course, there’s McGregor.

With that said, I love the complex, torn, disturbed or struggling with their past characters. Cardassian prisoner of war survivors trying to find a path beyond merely surviving. The Vulcan struggling to compose herself and yet find it in her heart to love her child. And the Trill swamped by the memories of symbiont past lives. These characters produce some of the more compelling and difficult writings and have often the superior story to tell.

But if I have to choose (ouch! feels Steff prodding him), then I choose McGregor. Because he’s fun. Because he’s more than he appears.  Because he can do just about anything story wise. Because he can bounce off just about any other character and demonstrated this with other peoples characters too in the various Round Robins. And because he can bounce off the motley collection of personalities built up around him in Kestrel.cropped-Miranda-Fave-header2.jpg