“To boldly go where no one has gone before.” This iconic phrase instantly brings to mind the Star Trek series. Phaser fights, new life, and new civilizations are also defining elements of this tv show. Perhaps just as defining are its characters. The writers of Star Trek were able to craft some amazing and memorable characters that feel truly real. Round, realistic, and relatable characters are a goal of every author, so I thought I’d share five things I’ve learned from Star Trek about creating great characters.
1. They have a backstory.
On The Next Generation Commander Riker is a good cook. Why? Well, we learn his mother died when he was young, and his father hated to cook, leaving young Riker to fix all the food. We learn that he lived in Alaska, and he had a troubled relationship with his father. The things that a person experiences makes them who they are, and the writers on Star Trek use their characters’ background stories to shape them and make them more relatable. Each character has experiences unique to them making them all the more real.
2. They have interests.
On Deep Space Nine, Sisko loves baseball, and has a baseball sitting on his desk. His love of baseball is referenced many times throughout the series, and there’s even a whole episode about it (Take Me Out to the Holosuite, one of my favorite episodes!). Riker plays the trombone and, as I stated before, loves to cook. Data has a cat, writes poetry, paints, and plays the violin. The fact that the characters have interests makes them more realistic, more like living, breathing people.
3. They grow.
Hoshi Sato, in Enterprise, starts off in the series as being frightened and unsure of herself. She’s scared about space travel, and doesn’t believe that she can translate or learn languages well enough in order to help the crew. By the end of the series, however, Hoshi is confident and brave, even taking command of the bridge, something she would have never done before. Data, too, grows and changes. In the beginning, Data’s much more like a robot than a person. By the end of the series, Data uses human phrases, writes poetry, and even sleeps. Just like real people, Star Trek characters grow and change, and through that, become much more real.
4. They have habits, sayings, and quirks that just make them, them.
Captain Picard’s “Tea, Earl Gray, hot,” and the way he tugs at his jacket are immediately recognized as something only Picard would say or do. Giving Picard a certain phrase allows him to have his own identity and personality, helping to create a realistic and round character. Giving characters a recognizable habit makes them more original and unique.
5. They have faults, and they fail.
At the beginning of Voyager, B’Elanna Torres has a temper and is full of anger. By the second season (I’m still watching this series!), B’Elanna has learned to control her temper, becoming a qualified chief engineer. When Wesley Crusher goes to Starfleet Academy, he makes a disastrous decision that ends up killing one of his fellow cadets, and then lies about it to cover up what he did. No one is perfect, not even the characters on Star Trek. Much like we 21st century earthlings, 24th century Star Trek characters fail and have faults which allows us to connect and sympathize with them.
From “These are the voyages …” to “to boldly go where no one has gone before” Star Trek is full of round, interesting characters with habits, faults, and interests. Now I have an excuse to re-watch some of my favorite episodes again! All in the name of creating better characters, of course. 😉
Live long and prosper!