This month’s article of “How To Think Like An Alien” focuses on Klingons. As the reader will notice, many of the steps in playing an alien race are going to be nearly the same from one species to the next, at least when we consider carbon based humanoids like ourselves. But once we cross into non-carbon based life forms, it starts becoming difficult, since in reality, we can’t relate to such a being. There are well known beloved beings in the “Trek Verse” that fall into this category. They regularly showed up on screen to be a thorn in Captain Kirk’s side. They were as much a mystery to the viewers as the Vulcans, though often times, had a far less developed backstory. It is only recently that we saw more depth added to their culture through television episodes, movies, and book mediums. Of the many species involved in the Trek world, this is very true of the notable Klingons.
How to Get into the Skin of a Klingon, or How to Think Like One.
One thing you must keep in mind when you decide to play a Klingon is that these people are not brutish violent automatons, but honorable beings with a rich culture. Playing one should reflect that depth.
A typical Klingon’s life is centered around excelling in life, and the struggle to be better than one is now; whether that life involves farming or being a solder. Their lives are also centered around struggle, the struggle within, and with out. If you understand the Klingon home world, you understand its people. Their world Qo’noS is a harsh world that breeds strong hardy people. In various parts of the planet, the weather is hot and windy, suffering from many earthquakes as this world is still geologically active. Meager resources, make quick easy fodder for squabbles and eventually full scale battles and wars to control a well, or prime arable land to grow food. The result is a culture that thrives on the glory of battle.
Klingons view life with a zeal and zest generally unmatched by the typical species in the Federation. They “Work hard and play hard”, to use a Terran expression. They are known to not mince words but will be brutally honest with a being. To be known as a liar or a deceiver is not only distasteful but dishonorable. Spies and assassins were generally seen as dishonorable people, so few, if any, exist within their ranks. To kill an opponent with poisons or covertly was seen as cowardice. Instead, they prefer to see the attacker in front of them.
A child of Qo’noS is bold, proud, and loud about their culture. They are willing to share it with those they deem trustworthy. An Ithigan Hol is one thing they may call you if they choose you as friend. In this case, they would be a friend that would follow you to Sto’Vo’Kor and back and sing a song of the tale. Such a friendship results in a friend for life and for your House, or family line, when you are dead and gone.
Honor is a deeply rooted concept in the life of a Klingon. It has two, possibly three parts that are interconnected. Honor of one’s World, Honor of one’s family, (Your House name can bear honor or not), and personal honor. Sometimes succeeding in a great deed which incurs great personal risk can restore the damaged honor of oneself or House, should it be tarnished along the way. When a child is quite young they are taught by their parents and family about honor. When they can hold a weapon in a hand, they are considered a “man”/”woman”. They are taught to be self sufficient, to trust their own instincts, to use their minds to think, and to hone their bodies for battle. Not just the external battles, but internal ones as well. Surprisingly, Klingon parents encourage the children to have great discipline and patience. While their culture focuses on battle, it is not arbitrary battle that they seek.
For your Klingon, consider their background first. Do they belong to a large or small House, and is it a well known prominent one, or more obscure? Do you have a blood feud with a rival House over the loss of a member or something else? Does your character live on Qo’noS or a colony, or in the Federation instead? How tied are they into the Empire’s political mechanisms? Is the person in Starfleet? How does their family react to this? Is it even known by them?
What is he or she’s health status? Are they a hybrid of another species? Are they accepted, or rejected by peers, family, or outsiders? Do they have anything to prove? What is he or she’s disposition? Not every Klingon is a seething fireball of anger. Not all are solders. Some are priests, or monks, or merchants that choose to go a different route in life. Maybe they were bored or ‘called’ by their blood to it. Or maybe, the person is running from some personal representation of Fek’lar, a demonic being thought to devour the souls of dishonorable dead.
Use flashbacks in writing to show glimpses into the being’s life. Do they have a personal item they see as sacred or important? Is it tucked away in a box or on their person. What is the story behind it? Use these things to build a good hook into the background. You want the Klingon to leap off the monitor, being almost bigger than life itself. Remember, every line adds to the realism behind the character you are creating.
Craft your Klingon using these tips, and use your story as the song of their life, and I will raise a cup of Bloodwine to toast it. Qapla!