Your character’s name is one of the most important aspects to consider when writing a biography. Names have meaning, names leave an impression, names are important. Unless you’re going for irony, it’s rarely a good idea to call a weedy scientist ‘Chuck Steele’. On the other hand, calling a strapping marine that might just not get you taken seriously. A good way to be subtler is to look for meaning in the names – try BehindtheName.com, an excellent site for finding a little depth in the names. Try to have some sort of message behind it, even if it’s only lending a dim impression of the character at hand. It's not been uncommon for me to choose a name which has a meaning to me, and me personally - it's a little tie-in for me to the character. As mentioned, stereotypes should be avoided, and I'd also advise against 'John Doe' names. A name doesn't have to be hugely evocative and outrageous to still be striking and individual, but if it's a name which is completely and utterly straightforward, unless that's part of the intention, it can render the character uninteresting, on a surface level. We want our characters to be interesting, and preferably not just to ourselves. Sims are as much a group activity as they are personal entertainment, and I myself know that there's little more satisfying than knowing others are enjoying what you write just as much as you enjoyed writing it.
I would advise against naming the character after yourself. It can often detriment the disassociation between player and character that’s needed for the line to be drawn between IC and OOC. That's an important line, a line which, I believe, is necessary for good roleplaying. I always maintain that a player should be prepared to be thoroughly nasty to their character, and if you see it as yourself, rather than an extension of yourself, it can lead to an over-protective style of play – or, at worst, to a Mary Sue character (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue). Such thinking leads to wish-fulfilment characterisation, which is the bane of the reader's existence. It might be fun for you, the writer, for your character to be best buddies with Picard and Sisko and to be perceived as a great captain in their own right, but ask yourself how much fun it is for other people to sit down and read someone else's fantasies? Wish-fulfilment writing doesn't even have to be the 'I fire all torpedoes at the Borg Cube and destroy it' to be tedious. A litmus test I enjoy (but then again, bear in mind that I torment my characters for fun) would be to ask if you want to be the character. If the answer is an emphatic 'NO!' you're probably on the right path. If it's a shrug of the shoulders, then again, no harm. If you really, really would like to be the character, then something's wrong. The disassociation's gone, and you're living your fantasies through the character, which leads to poor roleplaying and poor writing.
In addition, one should consider the background of the character, culturally, before choosing a name. If it’s a human, what culture are they from? That will affect the name. If they’re a non-human, consider the names of others of their species, the types of names – T’whatever for Vulcan females, the entire complexity of the Klingon language (I could write a whole book about that – go talk to K’Hare) and alphabet, and other simple challenges. If a character has a name that’s not suited to their species or culture, there’d better be a reason for it in their background.
What's in a name, eh? Yeah, I could have rambled on that for days.
Another highly important aspect of the character. The first thing to consider would be the level of experience you intend for your character to have – the second, what that equates to with their aging process. A Vulcan gets over a century of life in them – use it, benefit from it, unless your notion is to have a young and inexperienced character. But you don’t need to make a Vulcan equate to human terms of age, you don’t need any 28 year-old solid officers. It’s not necessary, they could have another fifty years of experience under their belts, and that makes for good development.
Age correlating to experience, position and rank is important in an environment like simming in Starfleet. I’ll set off on my ramble about CO characters as the prime example. It’s Trek canon that Kirk was (in his time, as has been pointed out to me) the youngest captain in Starfleet history at 33. And Kirk was… well… Kirk. It’s true that his record has been beaten in 100 years, but think of what sort of person it would take to do that. It’s not going to be every Tom, richard, and Harry CO out there in Starfleet. A case in point – I believe there has only ever been one Captain in the US Navy who was under thirty. I think he may have also died in a helicopter crash shortly afterwards, but that’s not relevant. I’m not even sure it’s correct, but the point is there. I would honestly not even begin to consider a CO character under the age of 34, 35, unless you want to step into the realms of God-simming. I do hear the argument that “But they were a Lieutenant Commander when I started out”, but if anyone tries to give me that justification, I’ll give them a pound to go out and buy themselves some foresight. Yes, this topic riles me up, it really does. Take it into consideration with other ranks. I tend to consider Lieutenant JGs to be not much younger than 25, 26, Lieutenants to be around the 28, 29 mark, Lieutenant Commanders to be around the 32, 33 marks, Commanders to hit late thirties, and Captains to be in their early forties. Obviously, your character can have different ascension through the ranks, but that’s often quite a safe guideline to use for the realistic character ascension. One other concept to consider for young COs might be that they were promoted during a time of war, with fewer officers at hand. However, write them like it – any of the young captains I have personally encountered in sims are all written as being just as smart and competent (sometimes more so) than captains ten years older than them. A young officer who was promoted to a position of command faster than would be ideal could be an interesting character concept… if so, write it like that. Most of the time it’s just because people like their twenty-five year-old Admirals.
And how realistic is this? I know. We're not here to write pure realism. But then, we're not here to write pure fantasy. Remember, your own fantasies are probably very boring for other people to read. If you're completely selfish, then go hide out in a corner and write it yourself, instead of inflicting it upon other players. If you respect the group, respect the story as a whole, and respect the fact that you'll have more fun working with them for a tapestry of a story rather than indulging your own fantasies.
I cannot stress this point too much.
Date of Birth:
Pretty much what it says on the tin. Check what year your character’s ‘era’ is in right now – BF norm is 2381 at this point in time – and calculate that from their age. It doesn’t have to be grand. Sometimes, if I’m going to town on character development, I work out their birthday with the Zodiac, but that’s never for anything more than my own amusement. It can help shape your character’s personality, to be fair, but it’s just a little habit of mine. Especially as the Zodiac stuff is always vague and all-encompassing... unless it's a Zodiac description which breaks down personalities into simple key words, and I hugely despise that kind of character definition. Nobody is broken down into key words.
Place of Birth:
Important. Definitely. Where your character was born can affect their upbringing, their perspective… or they were just born there and left quickly. It says something about the character’s parents, more often than not. If your character was born in sickbay on a starship, that might suggest they had working parents. Consider your character’s background, and find something that fits. Also, of course, keep it realistic. I hope I don't need to extrapolate on that point.
Ever relevant. Now, I’m not someone who believes that you have to be non-human to have an interesting character. I believe that you can make them perfectly interesting and still entirely human. I admit, I haven’t played an alien character in a while except for the Pickle, but I do confess that I’m not entirely sure why. Regardless, the species of your character will often affect their entire nature. A Klingon will act a certain way, a Vulcan will act a certain way, and if your character’s going to act outside of the confines of their culture, then there’s likely to be a lot of back story in it. Don’t think of it as unacceptable, just be careful with it. Or take on one of the lesser-known species and mould them to suit your purposes. One of my favourite ‘minor’ species would be the Angosians from TNG ‘The Hunted’, fighters in the Tarsian War, the naturally peaceful people who subjected the youth of their society to enhancements to make them suitable warriors. There’s often a lot to play around with if you so wish. Make sure you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the species when you do this, and the cultural implications this will have for your character, the influences there will have been upon them. If you're going to do something which goes against the norm for that culture, be sure to justify it. And justify it well.
99% of the time, it’s going to be decided upon by your CO. But make it realistic to your character’s back story and experience, as I’ve mentioned above under age. Not to mention relevant to the Chain of Command at hand and your place in it.
Often I find a biography to be written around the position, but sometimes I have a character whose job I need to find. It might then just be best to take a look at the skills and strengths of your character, and work out where they belong. It’s also often good to consider it within the context of the sim you intend to join; work out how much a scientist will have to do on a marine ship, or a marine on a science vessel, and if you’re happy with how that will leave you.
This also brings me to the more obscure positions. Yes, they might be a scientist, but what SORT of science? They might be an engineer, but did they mess around with the warp core or the transporters? If you're stuck, at least consider these roles in the history of the character's career, or choose one for their present circumstances beyond 'Security Officer'. It gives you a niche. Chances are that you'll be defining their work habits and interests, and this never hurts.
Is your character single? Married? Engaged? Widowed? Divorced? There are few ways better to torture your character than via their love life. Also, I think Bravo Fleet has a very impressive list of single people…
Nobody is just a spontaneously created creature. Characters have parents, siblings, uncles, aunts. Who are they? What are they doing now? How old are they? A simple list and a few names can easily launch into something much greater for your character’s story, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Also, really don't be afraid to give your character a family of the wife 'n kids (or husband 'n kids) variety. There's precious little of it. For some reason, people find all of that boring. Which confuses me. Not that I've done it a huge amount myself. But fight the system!
Not always a necessary part of the bio, but one I sometimes find useful. Lets you write down specifically your character’s linguistic ability. I’d imagine every Starfleet officer would speak Federation Standard, and then might have been expected to study another language at the Academy. So your average human might speak two, or a Bolian might speak their own language, Standard, and have studied another, for example. But to be fair, your average person isn’t likely to speak more than two languages. If you’re creating a linguist, then that’s perfectly believable, but most people aren’t natural linguists. Too often do I see characters who can rattle off half a dozen languages and have basic communications skills in half a dozen more. Consider even some of the brighter and more widely-travelled individuals that you know. The majority of them will speak two, at best three languages. It takes a particular amount of time, skill and inclination to learn more.
Handy for visualisation. I’ve also often said that it can be a good idea to get a picture of your character before you start… if only because, once you have that well-established character, it can be hell finding someone who has the right ‘look’ for them. If you have that picture out of the gate, you’ll suffer less. Regardless, pictures aside, the appearance of your character is important. Lots of people judge books by their covers, and players also like to be able to visualise their and other people’s characters. It helps an awful lot with the writing. There’s not much I can say on this, except to give as much detail as you can, because it helps everyone.
Also, I'm very bored of people who are 6'6" and built like battleships. Consider how many people you know who are built like that. It gets ridiculous. Also, go for a nice height to weight ration - there are webpages out there to help you with this, so you have a realistic build. For once, maybe try playing someone of below-average height. Yes, I'm sure we'd all love to be hugely tall and of optimal build, but remember that this isn't entirely about what WE want, is it?
Always useful, and will often pop up in character development posts. What does your character do in his spare time? This is often quite indicative of the sort of person they are. Whether they do white water rafting, chess, or are just obsessive about 15th Century Spain, what they do in their spare time says something about their personality. It can often help round them as a character, soften any edges.
Also, so many times do I see characters who don't seem to have interests beyond what their work would demand of them. Scientists who don't like doing anything but reading up on theoretical astrophysics. Marines who ONLY do combat drills and perhaps wilderness survival for fun. Maybe a scientist who's an avid golf player, or a marine who enjoys music? If a character really DOES just live and breathe their career, then that's alright - but make sure you bring that out in writing.
Decorations, Reprimands, Commendations and Achievements:
I tend to title this section vaguely on purpose. It’s a good place to note any legal trouble, or any medals, or simple commendations… or just something the character’s done that might need to be stated. It’s a useful highlight. Don’t be afraid to give your character a medal or two if they’ve done something that might deserve it – but obviously, don’t go over the top. I used to see hundreds of characters with the Medal of Honour… but if you consider the history of those highest-level medals, it’s a medal where it’s often easier to win it if you die. That just sort of highlights the level of action it would take to win such a medal. So don’t go nuts. The last three recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor died getting it. Your character is not here to be the outrageous hero for everyone to aspire to be (remember, fantasies not interesting), so make sure to be careful.
I often find this to be the shaping of a character’s background, and a decent reference point. It lets you know where your character was should something pop up where you need to ask “What were they doing in 2371?” Consider that your character, unless they have a very special background (or a different maturing process to humans) would go to the Academy at 18, and I believe it’s assumed these days that this lasts four years. So they won’t be in active duty until they’re 22, 99% of the time. It’ll usually be more than two years at least before a character is likely to go up a rank at a time, so don’t have them skipping up the chain of command every month. Be real. Also, I'd avoid assigning your character to the Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, and so forth. It goes back to the fantasies, and is a little fan-boy-ish. It also limits you down the line as to what you can do with your character. Mine are never static; they're always in development. A service record which might just be a list of ships and dates when you write it may be much more important later. I've had a character make reference to something that happened to him five years ago, and then I had to check where he was assigned back then. And if he was assigned to the Enterprise and you wanted something horribly debilitating to have happened to the ship so his background plot can come around... well, you're screwed. And no, it's impossible to say that you won't want this to happen, because your character will, if you write them correctly, TELL you what's happened in their past. They won't care if it was the USS Enterprise or the USS Random. And then you've gone and shot yourself in the foot in the terms of your character's background, because you've placed them within a defined environment that you can't play with.
Then again, much as I malign the series, having a character who was on Voyager in a minor position could still make for a very interesting concept.
This is the most important part of your character biography, and yet there’s not a whole lot I can say here because this obviously differs from character to character. I’d just encourage you to make it as detailed as possible. Consider how your character grew up, what the situation was in their youth. Why they chose to join Starfleet, or the KDF, or whatever job it is they’re doing. A character is shaped by their experience, and whilst I do understand how sometimes it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve written the character for a few months, know them better, before writing all the precise details of their past, I can still advise you to get as much into the background as is feasible.
That ramble there was 125 words. I’ve seen character backgrounds shorter than that.
Nope, those guys didn’t get on to my sim.
Insert the usual ramble about not giving yourself wish-fulfilment experiences here.
I can't actually offer huge amounts of advice on this one. I really would recommend against a character who just sort of 'exists'. I've seen characters where the entire point was that they were a rookie who had a very normal life and went to the Academy and had a normal time there and they're now on their first assignment. I've also seen characters who were ten years into their service and their backgrounds were horribly... blah. No. There's nothing wrong with it, but also remember that it's good to be interesting. It's good to interest other people. It might pander to your ego for your character to be this wonderful, wonderful officer. Trust me, it'll pander more to your ego to be told by other players that they really enjoy your writing.
See, I'm not being kind and helpful when I suggest to you to drop the wish-fulfilment stuff. I'm just being even more of an egomaniac.
As a generic point, to make your character 'interesting' doesn't mean that you have to make them 'unique'. A guy who was turned into some uber-operative by Section 31 might be unique (well, IC. OOC, he's ten a penny). It doesn't guarantee that he's going to be interesting, ESPECIALLY as it's something which has been done a hundred times before. If you do it well, then kudos to you. Do it wrong, and then I'll ignore you. Yes, fear my indifference.
Another highly important aspect of the character’s biography. What makes them tick? What do they like and dislike? How do they act around people they don’t know? Around old friends? When on duty? When in a big party? When in private? Why did they make the decisions in their life that they have? How do they feel about what their life has done to them so far? What do they intend to do in the future?
Keep asking those questions, and their personality will come out. I’m sure I could list hundreds more questions, too, but I’d suggest using those for basic guidelines to kick off.
However, I would hugely advise you to avoid writing it down in such a list format. It's a severe issue I have with the SMS - the fact that the character personality profile is reduced to sections like "Overview", "Ambitions", "Strengths and Weaknesses". No - a character is more than this. A character is more than the sum of their parts, and it's cheap and lazy for you to write out your character in a simple list.
I don't see a character application as just the definition of who a player would like to write. I see it as a player audition. And for me, I want to see how a player can write, how they can express their ideas through words. I don't NEED a writing sample with my bios, because the biography should tell me all I need to know about the level of player I'm dealing with. But on the topic of a Personality Profile, I prefer to express it freeform. If you reduce the profile into lists, that might get the key points, but I guarantee it will miss things out. It will encourage an applicant to become superficial in explaining the character, their motivations, their hopes and dreams.
And for the love of God, in that 'Ambitions' box, stop having every single one I see say "Reach a high rank and become a Chief Engineer / Captain of a Starship / Admiral and TFCO." I've written workaholic characters in the past. And they were defined by that workaholic nature. I've also seen characters who would put these workaholic aims in the 'ambitions' column of their applications and still try to make me believe that these are individuals who are party animals. Makes me wonder if these ambitions are your character's ambitions, or your ambitions.
The most important part of your character biography is making your character talk to you. They’ll tell you where they grew up, why they joined Starfleet, and just what it is about their elder brother that gets their blood up. Let them. It’ll make the character better.
The second most important part of your character biography is making sure that they're not an awful lot of wish-fulfilment dullness. I cannot stress this enough. Remember that your fantasies are very dull for other people to read. Remember that there is nothing that will pander to your ego more than having other players tell you that they enjoy your writing. 90% of other players will enjoy nuanced and flawed characters who suffer real challenges.
I do not write this as an 'artiste'. I write this as an egomaniac of the highest order.
Bio guid created by: Cath Stinton of the angry apes http://www.justslide.com/Apes/