Database: The Player's Craft: Writing for Bug Eyed Aliens

Joan: I find it difficult to make my characters any more than human or half human. All except that of Sileth who was a Trill and had some odd human qualities after having mixed with humans for so long. I suppose it’s a case of finding the right character and having the confidence to try something different or I just like to play human with all its frailties attached. I find bios a pain to write as my characters don't always follow them but grow and evolve on their own. I would rather wait and see what happens and how they 'write' for a couple weeks as that character before writing and setting it in stone on their bio. Out of all the characters I write I like Tell the best. She is so the opposite of me and says what she thinks. She's a challenge to write.

Lochy: I'm actually OK with someone finding it easier to write a human than an alien, it probably means you're getting your head inside the character rather than just picking an alien for the novelty factor. In some ways, the aliens in startrek are just extreme extrapolations of either a type of human personality, or a particular cultural subgroup. The Suliban from Enterprise were roughly based on Arabs (a group of extremists giving a larger culture a bad name, named after the Taliban, as a matter of fact). Klingons were originally oriental in character, but after the TOS movies were retconned into something more like space-Vikings. The Ferengi are an extreme version of a used car salesman - probably with a fair bit of Jewish stereotype thrown in (my dad's Jewish, so I can get away with saying that).

As such, the best way to start writing a trek alien is to develop a human personality that fits that race, and then re-skin them. Any rough-around the edges violently inclined personality will suit a Klingon; a biker, a pirate, a cockney skinhead, or a Viking would look perfectly at home in Klingon skin. As long as you use Klingon appearance and speech, people probably won't even make the connection. Likewise, anything from a cold, corporate merchant banker to a weaselly used car salesman would suit a Ferengi. Trill are basically human in general personality, so they can generally have most of the personality types humans can - as can Betazoid, Bajoran, El-Aurian, etc...

The second step is to do a little thinking about the distinctive things about that race, and let that flavour your character and writing a little. Your biker Klingon might believe clan is tremendously important (as bikers do with gangs). Your skinhead Klingon might be caught in the glory days of the empire, and believe Klingons are innately superior. You might also want to lay out a list of DO's and DON'T's for your character along these lines; laying down a personal code, such as "your klingon character WILL accept any reasonable challenge issued to him" or "your Ferengi character WILL NOT give away money if he can possibly avoid it".

This race flavouring is more important with the races that are more similar to humans. Trill are generally just like humans, but JOINED trill have a battery of past lives to draw experience from. This means they tend to have "old souls", and regard everyone as young, even when they're in their early twenties. They could be polite or blunt, enthusiastic or cold and reserved, but their past lives will play a factor in who they are. Likewise, Betazoids could have any personality type, but you have to account for the fact that they can hear other people's thoughts. Betazoids generally have few hangups about insincerity for example; they never wonder "does my husband really love me", because they can sense if he does. They might still dislike insincerity, but more from an "I can see it and I hate it" perspective that being constantly second guessing the motives of others.

And of course, you might be choosing to do a character that's highly atypical of their race - such as the Ferengi scientist that invented the Metaphasic shield. You'd still be considering all the things above of course, but you'd be considering how they'd affect your character in a more contrary way. A Klingon librarian would probably have a history of being a disappointment to his family. A straight-laced Starfleet officer who's Ferengi (such as Nog) might well have a lot to prove and a family lineage that he's rebelling against, and these would come to bare in him as a character.

The exception to all this is probably Vulcan characters. Vulcans come with a standard, stock personality; stoic, logical and unemotional. They can be hard to write for not because it's hard to know how they'd act, but because it's hard to make them distinctive from any other Vulcan. The trick with Vulcans is that it's all intellectual; it's their beliefs, values and goals that set them apart from each other. A Vulcan who is a strong advocate of social justice will be very different from a tactical commander who is all about necessary sacrifice, even if they look and act the same. A Vulcan who believes in the greater good over issues of personal morality (and thus feels justified in joining the LinDab and using biogenic weapons on civilians so Starfleet can keep it's hands clean) is a step removed again.

Not a bad idea for a character, that one. Morality taken to a frighteningly amoral logical end. Borderline insane, and yet he'd still look and talk like a calm, stoic Vulcan.

« Back to Database Entries