The Theorycrafter's Approach to Personality
Current version: 1.00. Complete for the most part, though far from perfected.
After much hand-wringing, kvetching, and aimless teasing, here it is—our in-depth guide to personality.
I guess we should start off by saying that you do not need personality forcing. It is possible to simply start with a blank slate. How well this works varies from brain to brain. It is entirely possible that your brain is one that works best at making a tulpa when given a blank canvas—it is also possible that it works best when given a template to follow.
To further complicate things, different brains work better with different templates. Again, in some cases, a tulpamancer can define nothing at all and yet something will crystallize. In other cases, a tulpamancer can list off a few vague traits, and the brain will fill in the gaps as the tulpa forms. In others, a tulpamancer can go into detail on some key traits and write out a few scenarios with their tulpa, and that gives their brain enough to work with to form their tulpa. And then there's others for which none of the above work, and a tulpa forms only after they have carefully built a detailed personality from the ground up, and then “animated” it a little. This includes some fiction writers who have accidentally made tulpas from their characters.
To say the least, it's a whole spectrum. Where your brain falls on that spectrum is a question only you can answer. That being said, if you find you can't make anything work without creating a personality first, it might be in your interest to, well, create a personality. This guide is only one of many approaches to personality, and it falls on the more intense side of the spectrum. We highly recommend you shop around and read a good variety of pieces on the subject of personality, not just this guide, even and especially if it means finding your own approach to things in the end. These are observations and suggestions, not scripture.
Overall, the purpose of this guide is to not only walk you through our personal ways of creating a personality, but to help you understand how personalities emerge and, hopefully, how to use that process to your advantage to create personalities that feel natural.
– Understanding Personality
In order to get the full use out of this guide, we must first discuss—and understand—the fundamental nature of personality.
Before we begin, I'd like to present what I call the “waterscapes metaphor”. I'll be bringing it up multiple times throughout this guide.
The metaphor is as follows:
Think of personality formation in the sense of waterscapes—rivers, streams, lakes, etc—developing. The water is the tulpa themself—their mind, their awareness, their consciousness. The shape of those waterscapes, the channels through which the water flows, reflects the shape of their personality—their behaviors, the ways in which their emotions are expressed, their ways of reacting to things. You can wait for the water to make its own way across the landscape. Or, you can dig the channels yourself. In either case, you get paths for the water to flow along.
Another thing we have to address is how we define personality. Now, terminology is extremely nebulous. Even moreso for abstract things such as personality. I am sure that there's no shortage of ways to define the term, especially when it comes to colloquialisms: however, for the sake of this guide, we'll be defining it as follows:
Personality: the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual's distinctive behavior.
That's still a pretty vague definition, though. So, how do we make it less vague? How exactly do we explain what personality is?
I will attempt to do so by explaining what it is not.
First of all, a fact that we all understand—personality is fluid. Personality is highly dependent upon context. Even a generally kind person may snap at a stranger if they are hungry and tired. However, that person may feel guilty later about snapping at that stranger—and that reaction, too, is an aspect of kindness, an aspect of their personality. So, traits can have many expressions across many contexts. They are dynamic and ever-shifting, not static. They are about more than the immediate situation—they are not confined to the immediate situation, but continue to be expressed after the fact in other ways.
Likewise, traits do not exist in isolation. Traits interact with not only the situation at hand, but with each other as well. They may interact in obvious ways—a person who is quiet and kind will attempt to cheer someone up in a way different from someone who is outgoing and kind, even though both people are kind. They may also interact in contradictory ways—a person who is both kind and a stickler for the rules may fine someone for a late library book, even though the kind thing would appear to be to exempt them. So when considering how a trait might spur someone to act, we must consider not only that specific trait and the situation at hand, but that person's other traits as well—not to mention how strong a trait may be in relation to other traits.
To further complicate things, traits are far more complicated than “good” or “bad”. Just as personality is dependent upon context, so too are traits. Someone who is ruthless may make a good businessman, but not a good elementary school teacher. Even traits that generally carry extreme negativity are powerful in the right contexts—manipulativeness can be used not only to instigate conflict, but to ease it and guide opposing sides into mutual understanding. And “positive” traits can, on the flip side, be hindrances—a very loyal person can also become clingy, and a sensitive person may delay on making harsh but necessary decisions. Few things are absolute, and neither are traits.
Because of this, one can have configurations of traits that can seem downright paradoxical, but actually work logically when examined. A highly manipulative person can also be highly empathetic—in fact, empathy and manipulativeness can feed each other, in that empathy gives the person a higher level of understanding of others, allowing them to manipulate more effectively, while manipulation itself is employed for the sake of making others happier, ensuring that the person gets to soak up mostly positive emotions via empathy. An altruistic person can be ruthless and cruel—they may be selflessly dedicated to a cause beyond themself, but they may believe that the ends justify the means, especially if they believe that those they're fighting aren't truly human.
So at the very least, a personality is so much more than a simple list of “good” and “bad” traits stacked up and measured in opposition. Personality is also about the interplays between those traits, and how they adjust to the situation at hand.
A personality is what emerges from years of experience and memories. There's no shortage of precedent, from the effects of abuse to interests encouraged in childhood influencing career, to show that we are the products of our upbringing and environments, past and present. Those environments—in combination with our biologies—teach us to want certain things, which form the motivations that drive us, and teach us how to go about getting those things. So, you can say that personality can be boiled down, in a very abstract way, to what we want (companionship, survival, prestige, etc) and what we know about getting what we want (nurturing, manipulation, etc).
How does a personality change and grow? The answer, as implied, is through more experience. As we experience life, our brains automatically, without our deliberate input, record information and file it away, and as we go about life, our brains, both with our conscious awareness and without, reference this ever-growing pool of information to determine how we'll react to the situations that come our way. And as things unfold, our brains continue to incorporate information in an endless cycle.
In essence, personalities are self-adjusting patterns, and not a database of responses. They operate like infinite arrays in some programming languages—instead of generating all possible values, which would be an impossible task, the language stores a pattern and uses it to generate a certain value according to the specific input given. Likewise, the brain does not store every possible response to every possible situation within its folds—those responses, rather, are generated according to the patterns formed by the information it has accumulated from experience, which adjust continuously as new information is incorporated. Compare this to, say, a video game NPC, who can only act within their databases and will glitch, break, and freeze if presented with a situation outside their pool of pre-programmed responses—even compelling and cleverly coded characters like Flowey from Undertale will eventually run out of responses once you delve deeply enough. In contrast, a person—physical or nonphysical—will never “run out” of responses. (Though they may be struck speechless by unexpected situations!)
Now, for how this relates to tulpas.
Some mistakenly believe that the tulpa must be “generated” by the host in order to exist, and thus cite the limitations of a host's attention to claim that tulpa are no more than role-playing, or that a tulpa's personality is lesser than a host's. This is not so. What that claim describes is parroting—and the tulpamancy community itself makes it pretty clear that parroting is something very different from a tulpa talking on their own. Again, when a host goes through life, it's not them that incorporates information and generates the bulk of their responses—it's their brain, which often does so without their conscious awareness or their attention. That same mechanism that runs a host and their personality also runs a tulpa and their personality. A mature tulpa, especially one bound with the bell of thought rather than the bell of obedience, needs no more “generation” from the host to act, than the host needs “generation” from the host in order to feel an emotion.
When creating a personality for a tulpa, you do have to keep in mind that by nature, the beginning personality you are creating will in all likelihood not be as complex as that of a physical person's, as it will be constructed from concepts rather than actual memories. However, this does not devalue a tulpa's existence as their own person, nor does it doom them to a state of simplicity—like any physical person, their personality develops and fills in as they experience the world and accumulate memories. The personality you are making for them is simply a seed crystal, so to speak. It's a place for them to start and grow off of, not the total sum of what they are and will always be.
Another conceptual mistake some tulpamancers make is assuming they must construct every possible outcome of their tulpa's behavior, or manually adjust their tulpa's personality to “develop” it further. Relax. You don't need to. Think back to the waterscapes metaphor. In a physical individual, waterways (personality) are formed naturally as water (the person) follows contours in the landscape (experiences life) to carve out its own paths. In a tulpa with personality forcing, the tulpamancer gives them a jumpstart by carving out canals for the water to flow through, instead of waiting for the water to form its own pathways. After that, though, the water itself flows on its own, without needing to be moved by the tulpamancer—and as it moves, it erodes new paths and changes the shape of old ones. As the brain automatically incorporates information and updates personality for hosts, so too does the brain do so for tulpas. Once you've gotten your tulpa started, you can let the brain do that part of the work, in the same way it does for you. What they begin as does not impose a limit on what they will become—the initial paths you carve for them guide, not limit.
So, in essence, you could think of creating a tulpa in this way—creating a space for a separate pool of information to accumulate apart from your own, which forms a personality, and training the brain to bring that pool of information to life in the same way it does for you, which creates a person behind that personality. With personality forcing, you dig the initial canals for your tulpa's waterways—the brain itself supplies the tulpa with their own waters.
tl;dr - Personality is more complex than a list of traits, or a list of responses to a list of events. It's a pattern, maintained by the brain without our conscious awareness, that stems from motivations trained into us by experience, that continues to change throughout life as we continue to experience things. This is true for both hosts and tulpas.
– Misconceptions About Personality Forcing
So most of the above section addressed some misconceptions about personality in general. This section, as the title suggests, will address misconceptions regarding personality forcing—namely, common concerns and a number of bad practices.
Misconception: Building a tulpa's personality is like building a fiction character's. Actuality:
There's a huge, huge, huge difference between many tulpas and most fiction characters, and that's the presence of a backstory. When creating a fiction character, a writer can use a character's backstory to determine their present personality in the same way an individual's present personality can be traced back to their experiences throughout life. Sometimes, a writer doesn't even have to think much about a character's personality—simply knowing their character's backstory gives them an instinctual knowledge of their personality.
Those creating tulpas often do not have access to such a tool. While tulpas have emerged with backstories before and been perfectly fine, it is generally not a wide practice to deliberately make a tulpa from the ground up with a backstory. Instead, a tulpa's personality is constructed without one, using pure traits and motivations instead.
Thus, a non-backstoried tulpa's initial personality may be somewhat less complex than a fiction character's as a result, but it's not a concern—again, as a tulpa gets to experience things, their personality will automatically round out over time.
Misconception: Constructing a personality unfairly constrains the choices of the tulpa. Actuality:
As I've already mentioned, even if you don't shape a personality yourself, your expectations and desires will do it anyway. And the tulpas formed in this way are still fine.
Parents do this to their kids. Their attitudes, wants, and beliefs indelibly impact a child's personality, even if they try to be “hands-off”. Rather than being concerned with “freedom”, I'd argue that it's more important to consider effect. For example, consider the parent who wants their kid to love science. There's a far cry between introducing a kid to fun science projects in hopes of instilling an interest early on, and forcing a kid to read science textbooks to the point of punishing them for doing anything else. Likewise, there's a difference between outlining an initial personality for a tulpa while being accepting of change, and creating a rigid framework and cutting them down whenever they step outside of it. One suggests, the other confines.
While there are bad ways to go about personality forcing, just as in parenting, it is not “harmful” as long as one goes about it wisely and is supportive of deviation.
Misconception: In order for tulpa creation to be successful, the tulpa and host must be polar opposites in personalities. Actuality:
Don't be afraid of similarities in personality. It does not make your tulpa any less their own person. After all, I'm pretty sure your physical friends and family have some things in common with you.
An extreme version of this misconception I've seen tulpamancers and tulpas both fall into is to try and make themselves not only polar opposites, but polar opposites to the point of refusing to have any traits the other person has. Please don't do this. To be frank, it's not only a dangerous endeavor, it's a hopeless one given how flexible traits can be. Don't impose arbitrary restrictions that will stifle both your growths. Go with what works.
Misconception: It is impossible to create a tulpa with traits one does not have. Actuality:
Do not confuse traits with skills or experiences. Even if we don't express a trait ourselves, we automatically absorb traits from those around us and remember them, even if we're not aware of it. This is a far cry from, say, knowing how to play badminton, or knowing what it's like to grow up in the slums.
You cannot create a tulpa with physical-world experiences that you don't have. No amount of forcing will create a tulpa who knows, with intimate detail, what it's like to grow up black or female or poor, unless you've had firsthand experience with that yourself. There are accounts of tulpas, especially those born from fiction writing, having “memories” of their source worlds and stories—however, those memories are of those worlds, not this world.
You cannot create a tulpa with skills that you don't have. A tulpa will not magically know how to play a piano if you don't. However, a tulpa can have personality traits that, coupled with an interest in a subject, can spur them to develop a skill with more ease than you.
You can create a tulpa with personality traits you don't have. Yes, the expression of those traits may be shaky at first if they're based on memories of other people's traits instead of traits your brain is used to expression—but again, don't underestimate the brain's ability to remember and reproduce traits. (Especially if you're an empathetic individual.) That, and over time, experience cultivates and rounds out the expression of a trait. I guarantee you no one was a brilliant snarker when they were born—my own brand of humor is piecemeal from the Tales Series Forums, Guild Wars 2's mapchat, reddit, a few friends, and, I am reluctant to admit, a database of memes. Water in a waterscape will find a way to carve a path if it wants to.
And keep in mind that even if you do create a tulpa with personality traits that you have, how those traits are expressed can be very different from how you express them. Never underestimate the power of permutation.
Misconception: One must avoid negative traits at all costs, lest they end up with an evil or troubled tulpa. Actuality:
People are often afraid of “malicious tulpas”. But honestly, again, tulpas operate on the same reasoning as most physical individuals, which is to say that unless they're given a damn good reason to, they're not going to do harm. And the cincher: nophysical individual is free of negative traits.
So “avoiding negative traits” is not only pointless—it's flat out impossible. Every personality will naturally develop flaws, and this isn't a bad thing. It's just part of being a person. Remember also that many traits can be double-edged, and that traits are contextual, not absolute—so there's an extra level of pointlessness in trying to “avoid negative traits”.
So with all that in mind, you don't have to worry about “avoiding” negative traits. You probably shouldn't just toss in traits like “murderous” and “psychopathic” for shits and giggles (don't be that person who wanted to make a Cupcakes Pinkamena tulpa), but that's a very different thing from having a tulpa who, like any other person, has flaws in their personality.
And even if some iffy traits are used in a tulpa's personality forcing, it's still not a guarantee that they'll be evil or troubled if it's balanced out. Noctis was formed using a bunch of stereotypically negative traits—manipulativeness, unfeelingness, a particular sort of nihilism towards the world—which were then balanced out with a desire to learn and a thoughtfulness about why he does things and what effects they have. He turned out more than okay—someone who enjoys teaching and leading, who likes to arrange things so that everyone benefits from his plans, who's been a staunch ally and an unwavering support in hard times.
That being said, we're twins with Latin names. Our animal symbols—snake and phoenix—are mortal enemies. We're probably destined to kill each other someday, probably over the naming of a country. Until then, this section holds.
Misconception: A tulpa is less of a person because their personality is constructed. Actuality:
Again, remember what was said earlier—a tulpa's personality operates in the same way as a host's. It is operated using the same hardware, using the same logic. With the exception of parroting, the host does not “generate” them—the host installs the software, and the brain is what generates the tulpa's personality, in the same way it generates the host's. Or, to bring in the waterscapes metaphor again, the host does not go in and push every drop of water through every inch of waterway—they simply dig the channels, and the water itself will flow on its own.
What happens in personality forcing is essentially what happens to a host during childhood, in a condensed form. We are all “personality forced” by those who raise us, those who interact with us, and where we grow up.
Do not mistake the act of digging the channels for providing the water that flows through them. The water itself is no less real than the water that flows through naturally-formed channels, and the waterscape is no less a waterscape than a naturally-formed waterscape—it is simply given a starting form in shorter time than is usual.
Misconception: Creating a tulpa's personality means you will know all there ever is to know about them. Actuality:
I designed Noctis's personality in painstaking detail, and I still don't entirely understand him. Hell, he often throws me for a loop, and I have to crane my head 90 degrees to get him.
Once again, the waterscapes metaphor. You can meticulously make a map of where you want every canal to be, and then meticulously dig each canal perfectly—but even if you dig everything perfectly, erosion happens over time, naturally. And over time, your map will become inaccurate—especially as more time passes. And that's not even factoring in occasions where your plan disagrees with the natural dynamics of water, and the natural dynamics of water win and make their own way. So too with personality.
Of course, you could technically try and hold a tulpa rigidly to their initial template. Or, metaphorically speaking, line your waterways with concrete. But honestly, even if you disregard the ethical problems posed by that—think tiger parents shoving their kids into med school at the cost of their kids' well-being—I honestly wouldn't recommend it. Water wears down concrete, too, and it can be a hell of a task to continuously replace that concrete, so to speak. Where's the fun in that?
– Theorycrafting a MMO Build
Now, for the reason I titled this guide “The Theorycrafter's Guide to Personality”. This is essentially an extended metaphor, so you can skip it if you want.
The way I approach the creation of a personality is much how I approach the creation of a build in Guild Wars 2, my favored haunt before the tulpamancy community. A good build, you see, is much more than an arbitrary collection of upgrades. You do not make an efficient build by reading all the upgrades and going “oh, this sounds nice, I'll take it” on every upgrade that seems like it'd be remotely nice to have. Nor do you simply pick the ones that raise stats and so forth. You go in with an idea of what you want that character to do and then pick abilities, gear, trait trees, etc that supplement that character's purpose. And when picking upgrades and skills, you look for ones that synergize and make sense with each other.
For the sake of this guide, which is a tulpamancy guide and not a GW2 guide, I'm going to simplify things a lot and cut out discussion of things like understanding a class's abilities, pre-analysis, etc.
In any case. Some builds are built to “bunker”, to hunker down and weather any blow while defending a point. Others have absurdly high damage at the cost of absolutely no self-sufficiency. These builds are not “bad” or “good”. Rather, they are well-suited to some tasks and ill-suited to others.
So, that was where I started first—determining what I wanted to do. I wanted to solo enemies that weren't meant to be soloed—open-world champions, dungeons and dungeon bosses, the works.
I determined what my build needed to do in order to succeed at what I wanted to do. I knew the general pattern of bosses in the game. They hit extremely hard, as you would expect for group bosses. On my own, it didn't matter how much damage I packed—if I was too frail, I would go down long before I could ever dent them. So survivability was crucial.
The bosses I wanted to fight had extremely high amounts of health. However, few of them could actually heal themselves, or had time limits for defeating them. Thus, I determined that how much damage I could deal wasn't as important as survival—all I needed was to be able to outlast them, to fight a war of attrition. The goal would be, above all else, to stay alive.
So, I had determined that in order to successfully solo these bosses, what my build needed to do first and foremost was survive as long as possible, preferably indefinitely. Damage would be important, since I didn't have the concentration to fight forever, but survival was foremost.
Next, I determined how my build would do the things it had to do. There are multiple ways to stay alive in GW2. One is by killing things before they kill you—while viable for highly structured group runs, it was not a viable option for a lone player. Another is by stacking up large amounts of passive defense by taking damage-dampening skills and increasing one's defensive stats as much as possible. Another, by building up one's self-healing, and healing faster than one could be damaged. Another, by avoiding damage entirely by blocking, dodging, reflecting ranged attacks, and so forth.
Again, I knew the bosses I wanted to fight. They hit extremely, extremely hard. Passive defense alone would not be enough to survive them, not for long. How would my build survive, then? I decided to focus on active defense so I could avoid the big attacks entirely, and recovery so I could heal up from the little attacks.
I also had an eye on my own playstyle, including my own limitations—I was good at remembering and executing long combos, but I was also terribly twitchy and nervous. A build with high recovery was important in that I would be more able to recover from mistakes when fighting. I would likely end up taking more recovery than needed for that reason, even if it came at a penalty to damage.
Then I went about choosing traits, abilities, gear, etc that would accomplish the things my build needed to do. This step is the hardest part to explain, and the place where most new theorycrafters stumble. As I've already mentioned, a good build does not simply grab everything that “looks good”. A good build hinges upon two crucial things—synergy and understanding.
Synergy refers to how elements of a design work together. Two traits that synergize well together can be worth as much as, if not more than three that don't—for example, taking one trait that causes aura skills to apply a regeneration buff and taking another trait that causes regeneration buffs to cleanse debuffs effectively turns all aura skills into cleanses, which can be a lifesaver when fighting enemies that spam debuffs.
Understanding refers to understanding the limits of the build in actual play, and how the effects you've built for will be employed. Making a good build is only half the work—the other half is playing it well. To use my aura cleansing example again—traiting for cleansing auras will do crap all for you if, upon entering a fight, you immediately panic and waste all of your auras at the start. To make the full use of the build, one must stay calm, be patient, and time their skills well.
So I looked through my class traits, skills, and armor options, and chose options I felt worked well together. This meant making some paradoxical decisions like investing in critical chance. In other words, an offensive stat, not a defensive one. Why? Because one of the traits I picked would grant me an important buff that would recharge my dodges significantly faster upon making a critical hit. Not only was dodging one of my key defenses, I had also picked another trait that would cause my dodges to have added effects—therefore, critical chance would synergize into not one, but two traits.
As I did so, I took note of my build's weaknesses. It had crap damage. It has weak passive defense, and could be spiked down by the big hits. I had to time my dodges carefully and avoid wasting them—same for my heals. I had to be aware of cooldowns and debuffs that would cut my healing.
And then, I put it into play.
– Theorycrafting a Personality
Now, let's turn what we've learned towards building a personality for a tulpa. Obviously, there will be differences when it comes down to specifics—with a build, you'll often have to go in and tweak things as you test it out. Personalities are far more flexible, hence why some are able to start from a list of traits or even no personality at all—the brain is excellent at forming associations and filling in the gaps.
However, the general process breaks down to much the same reasoning.
1. Find out what role(s) you want in a tulpa.
And by that, of course, I do NOT mean things like “I've always wanted to indulge in a Japanese maid roleplay, so I'll make a Japanese maid tulpa!” Rather, I mean asking yourself one of the most basic questions in the community: why do you want a tulpa?
Speaking bluntly, if you're making a tulpa, if you're bothering with reading these guides and hitting your brain over the dome with chatter on a daily basis, then clearly, you want a tulpa for some reason. Even those of you who are in this just to see if it's an Actual Thing likely have an idea of what you'd want if indeed tulpamancy turns out to be an Actual Thing.
Most people will say, I want a tulpa because I want a close friend. Even that answer is deceptively simple. What kind of friend do you want? I'm pretty sure most tulpamancers have a vague idea of what they hope a friend will be like.
This is where many will balk and say that they don't want to impose their own desires on their tulpas. If you aren't comfortable delving down this avenue, that's okay—feel free to skip this step as best as you can. However, we are of the mind that a tulpamancer's behaviors and expectations will influence a tulpa anyway, and that it is better to acknowledge and harness those desires in a way that benefits host and tulpa alike, rather than deny that they exist and have an effect. It's as I mentioned earlier regarding misconceptions about personality forcing—what matters isn't if you shape a personality or not, but that you're willing to pay attention to your tulpa and allow them the room to change as they desire. There's a difference between, say, buying your kid a bunch of science kits and reading science textbooks with them in hopes of instilling in them a love of science, and yelling at them and taking away their pencils because you caught them writing or drawing when you wanted them to fill out science worksheets instead.
So, what are you looking for in a friend? A soft hand or a sharp voice of reason? Someone who's gentle and will remind you to get some rest, or someone who will push you to push yourself? Of course, keep in mind that tulpas are more than these “roles”—however, recognizing what roles we're looking for can give us a place to begin forcing.
Other questions to consider—what are your boundaries? Someone who needs lots and lots of alone time might want to think twice about creating an extremely chatty tulpa. How do you socialize? Can you do small talk, or is it an uphill battle? How do you think? What kinds of people do you work well with, and what kinds of people drive you batty?
Some say they want to make a tulpa for counsel, to represent a trait weak in themselves. Some want a guardian. Some want a creative partner. Figure out what it is that you want.
2. Find the personality that fits that role(s).
Now that you understand what role you hope your tulpa will play, it's time to figure out how roles translate to personalities. If the prior question dealt with the what, then this question dwals with the how.
This step is sort of like the sketching step. You've figured out that you want to draw a cat—now you're putting down the preliminary lines. Consider your boundaries and modes of thinking, and consider how they'll interact with the role you discovered. For example, there are many ways someone can be a guardian. A guardian figure for a very extraverted host will likely be different from a guardian figure for a very introverted host.
Basically, what you want here is to come up with the outline of a personality. There's a chance that you've figured this part out already while doing step 1. If you're having difficulties with this step, I'd recommend looking through some fictional characters you know (see “Additional Tips”) or finding a trait list and picking a few traits from it that you feel would be core.
3. Find the motivations that drive that personality.
As I've discussed way back when, the root of personality is motivation. Everything about ourselves stems from what we want, what we know about how to get it, and what we're willing to sacrifice in order to get it.
Now that you have a personality on hand, it's time to equip it with the engine and the fuel. Think—what motivations, what desires would give rise to the personality you've made? What do they find compelled to do? What satisfies them?
For example, an intellectual would be driven by the desire to learn more about the world. A guardian would be driven by the desire to protect. A socialite would be driven by the desire to meet others. Think about why these desires exist, the desires behind the desires. A desire to learn more about the world can come from sheer wonder at the complexity of the world, or a desire to make sense of things, or a desire to look smart. A desire to protect can stem from love, duty, or a mix of both. A desire to meet others can come from a love of attention, a curiosity about how others live, or a simple joy found in interacting with other people.
Of course, most personalities are going to have multiple desires. Be sure to figure out which desires are most core to the personality you are making—it will come in handy later.
As you can see, motivations do not have to be specific—in fact, I would strongly recommend that they aren't specific. What you want is to strike a blance—to provide direction without constraining. For example:
Comfortably general: My tulpa is interested in understanding the world. Still comfortably general: My tulpa is interested in medicine. (Why medicine?) A bit too general: My tulpa is interested in the pulmonary system. WAY too general: My tulpa wants to cure lung cancer.
A good rule of thumb is determining if a motivation is a subset of one or more general motivations—for example, wanting to cure lung cancer is a subset of both wanting to ease suffering, wanting to understand the world, and wanting to leave one's mark on the world. Try and see which general motivation(s) it stems from, and use that instead.
Another rule of thumb is seeing if a motivation is less a motivation and more a specialty. If it would sound downright strange for someone with absolutely no knowledge or history regarding a subject to suddenly take an interest in that subject, that might be a sign that you need to scale back on the specificity of that desire. Wiggle room for your tulpa is important.
Also, keep in mind that there are different levels of interest. Someone who is interested in medicine may not necessarily want to go the whole ten yards of becoming an M.D. They may simply enjoy reading articles about the latest discoveries in medicine. As with the interests themselves, you are best keeping these levels of interest comfortably general.
4. Find out how those motivations translate to traits.
Now that you know what your personality wants, it's time to understand how they get what they want.
Motivation and desire are not simply only about what we want, but how we get what we want, and what we are willing to give up for what we want. Traits are how those desires are expressed, and how desires are expressed are what give rise to traits.
This is the hardest step of personality construction to explain, and also the most personal. Here is where “there's many paths to the same destination” really comes into play. Your intellectual finds wonder in the world, and wants to understand it—are they the hands-on sort, or are they bookish? Do they mull things over silently, or need others as sounding boards or debate partners? Your guardian has a desire to protect—how exactly do they protect? Your socialite loves to meet people—what kinds of people, in what environments, and how do they greet them?
If this sounds a lot like Step 2, you're absolutely correct. What you're doing is revisiting the personality you came up with in Step 2, and using what you've discovered in Step 3 to make sense of and clarify what you created in Step 2. You're connecting motivations to behaviors. You're filling in the sketch.
Step 3 should have given you an idea of what the personality you've made values. Those values don't exist in isolation. Conflicts in values, and how to cope with them, are a major part of any personality. The desire to not upset a friend may conflict with the desire to correct a mistake they've made. The desire to explore may conflict with the desire to stay. Consider conflicts between values when you construct a personality.
It's important to note that this is not a rigid process—as you consider traits, you might find your understanding of the motivations you've determined shifting. That's perfectly fine—you don't need to scrap everything and start over. Personality construction can be messy. What matters is that you get a personality that makes sense in why it does the things it does.
You do not need to design flaws into your tulpa's personality for the same reason you do not need to design weaknesses into an MMO build. Again, remember that many personality traits are two-faced. Provided you have constructed a personality in enough detail, they will be there from the start and emerge on their own. Rather than inserting flaws for the sake of balance, or attempting to “edit them out” in an attempt to create the “perfect” tulpa, I would recommend trying to understand what flaws will exist instead. And how does the personality you've created cope with them?
As with MMO builds, what you're after is synergy and understanding—awareness of how the traits you've determined link together, and how they're expressed. You want to understand how traits are expressed beyond “he's often sad” or “she's often happy”—you want to understand why someone is often “sad” or “happy”, and why that why expresses itself in that particular way. You do not have to meticulously calculate every possible outcome to every possible situation using a spreadsheet of motivations and emotions—in fact, please don't do that—but you do want an understanding similar to the gut understanding you'd have of a physical friend. Do as much or as little pondering as it takes to get you to that understanding, and just as with a physical friend, keep your mind open and understand that your understanding is open to being changed by the person themself.
As for how you'd go about doing this pondering, that's up to you. With Noctis, I framed it as a sort of monologuey conversation with proto-him about traits and why he would express them the way he does. Writers write scenarios and answer prompts. Find the way that works best for your brain.
5. Color in the details.
If you were sketching the personality in step 2, refining the lines in step 3, and adding the base colors in step 4, then this step adds shadows, highlights, and fine details—all the neat little things that make a piece of art really stand out.
Just as with adding shading and highlights in art, adding “flavor details” to a personality often flows naturally. By flavor details, I mean things like the following:
- A person who is intellectual may use bigger words more casually than most.
- A person who is socially ambitious may be very interested in dressing and presenting well.
- A person who is gregarious may have very expressive body language.
In essence, a large part of this is traits and motivation translating to specific expression and action. Just as with adding shading and highlights, though, this process can be pretty hard to grasp if you're not used to thinking of personality this way. If you have trouble here, think outside of tulpamancy for a bit. Find the ways you remember other physical people, whether by their faces, their voices, or their preferred styles of clothing, and if you can, establish those details for your tulpa. What you're doing here is working with your brain by taking note of how it remembers others, and then using it to anchor your tulpa's presence by having it remember your tulpa in the same way it remembers physical people.
There's a whole host of little details that can stick in your brain and color in a person. Mannerism, voice, body language, etc. See the “Additional Tips” section for further information on ways you can do this.
Note that this step is pretty subjective. How in-depth you go into it, or if you go into it at all, is up to you and how your brain likes things. Some (namely a number of writers) need a very detailed personality in order to fully feel a person's presence. Others find themselves drowning when too much detail is introduced. Trust your own instincts.
6. Put your build/personality into play.
Exactly what it says on the tin. Use this personality you've made and force it via narration, meditation, etc. I'll be covering this topic in-depth in another guide.
A major difference between an MMO build and a personality is that you've got to troubleshoot an MMO build yourself. Tweak, tweak, tweak all the little details. With a personality, your brain will be doing most of the work. Just as your brain filled in your personality, so do will your brain often fill in your tulpa's personality without requiring you to manually add details yourself. The important thing is to relax and let it do its work.
– Additional Tips
If you're panicking about getting a personality “just right” and “perfectly sensical”—relax, relax, relax. Keep in mind that the brain is brilliant at filling in patterns and making up for gaps, and personality is no exception. (If you need evidence, think back to any time you've made guesses at why a character in a story was doing what they were doing.) What matters isn't making a personality perfect, but making a personality make sense to you. In other words, not making a flawless pattern, but making enough of it that the brain recognizes it as a pattern and begins filling it in on its own.
With the above in mind—feel free to alter any steps you'd like. Skip some, linger on some, stop before doing some of the more detailed ones, etc. What's important is that, again, you find something that works for you—what I described works for me, but your brain may be different, and there is no problem at all with tweaking things to fit you.
Fictional characters are an invaluable resource for both inspiration and introspection. Compile a list of your favorite fictional characters, and your not-so-favorite. What things did you like in your favorites? What drove you batty in your not-so-favorites? How did they express their traits, and why did they express them in those ways?
Likewise, if you're bamboozled by any of the process, try reverse-analyzing a fictional character and breaking their personality down to its component bits, then building it back up.
Stumped on something? Keep asking why. Why is your tulpa interested in what they're interested in? Why do you think they have a certain trait? Asking why can lead you to the most basic parts of their personality. Asking how can lead you to specifics.
Be careful of assigning absolute traits, e.g. “my tulpa is always cheery and upbeat”. Few physical people are “always” something. If you find yourself using the word “always”, stop and ask yourself if it actually is ”always”.
Symbolism is a powerful tool for conveying traits that are hard to express in words. A short list of symbols to consider: elements, instruments, tarot cards, Hogwarts houses, animals, colors.
Negative space is also important, and an avenue you can look down if you're stumped. What is your tulpa not, and why are they not? You can go even further and bring context into things—under what conditions is your tulpa not something?
You can use scenarios and thought experiments. Say an old lady spills her groceries and there's egg everywhere, and your tulpa has brand new shoes. What do they do then? Of course, view this the same way as if you were thinking of a physical friend—not as an absolute, but as something they'd likely do.
- Bind with the bell of thought. Create a landscape that invites water to flow on its own, and eventually, even if the landscape should change drastically, the channels worn by the water will be so deep that they will continue flowing. In other words—train yourself to think of them as independent from the beginning. When you think of their personality, don't think of their personality in the way you'd think of a character's personality, but in the way you'd think of a physical person's personality.
– Some Brief Examples: Two Bookworms
To give you a spur-of-the-moment example: let's say that I am creating a tulpa and I want a friend. When I think about who I would be friends with, the answer is that I could be friends with a lot of people—however, of the subset of friends who I'd be comfortable sharing a head with, it would be people who are intellectual yet friendly, and able to cope with being on their own for extended amounts of time rather than always wanting me to hang out with them. (I spend a lot of time staring into the distance and thinking while tuning everyone out, inside and outside of my head, as many people will attest.) From that, I can get a vague idea of a bookish sort of person.
I think about motivation. This person I'm thinking of loves to learn. This person is friendly and would like to help others. This person is curious and looks at the world with an analyzing eye—analysis for analysis' sake. I can name some traits that go along with these motivations: intellectual, friendly, helpful, interested, analytical.
Now I think about the ways this can manifest—the how. I can think of someone who's quiet and maybe a little aloof, but in an absent-minded, thoughtful way rather than an “I am superior and you are not worth my time” way. They probably wouldn't be interested in small talk—from what I've experienced, small talk is a bit difficult for those types—but would love to talk about subjects that interest them. (What specific subjects, I'll leave up to them to discover.) They wouldn't necessarily be shy, but because they'd be more interested in trading facts than small talk, they'd probably hang back a bit from most social gatherings. They wouldn't be unfriendly, and they would actually be quite helpful towards others, with an eye out for those who need help, though their way of helping would involve research and intellectual guidance, or being a springboard for ideas. They would look at the world and perhaps they would think about all the ideas it implies, how everything is related to each other conceptually.
Or, I can take it another direction. I can think of a bookish person who's also quite outgoing, who's alternately thrilled to be around people and adept at navigating social things, while also able to get sucked into books or into projects from those books. This person I'd imagine to be more hands-on, with an interest in reading about and then doing various crafts. Possibly doing them with other people as well, and of course always glad to talk about their projects. They would get pretty involved in gatherings of people, and be quite enthusiastic and bright. And they'd take a more hands-on approach to helping people, whether it's going out and doing a task themself or by thinking of ways the world can be altered to make something easier. They would look at the world and see new projects, things to improve and fix, creative ways everyday things can be used.
As you can see, both personality concepts fit what I'm looking for in different ways. And both exhibit the traits I've named. But those traits are expressed differently and interact differently for each.
– An In-Depth Example: The Creation of Noctis
To provide an even more detailed example, here's the thought process behind the creation of our own tulpa.
I (Falah) didn't intend to create Noctis. What I intended to do was change myself. I got sick of my constant inner conflicts, my anxiety, my guilt and shame over things I shouldn't be feeling guilt and shame over, like eating. So I decided, based on some conjectures I'd made about how personality works, to try and reconfigure my personality into something more “effective” and “efficient”.
I succeeded for a while. Then some factors led to me aborting it and reverting myself. The personality still lingered, though, and eventually came back in full force—this time, with an actual person behind it. And that's how I inadvertently added another to this head.
That's the context of it. Now, for how I actually did it. I wasn't thinking in discrete steps when doing this, so there's going to be a fair amount of crossing-back and crossing-over here, but for the sake of understanding, I'll point out the parts that correlate most with the steps I gave.
First, the role I was looking for. I certainly didn't aim to create a “perfect” personality”. My goal was to create one that was more “efficient” at getting the things I wanted done, done. What did that mean? In my case, what held me back was an overabundance of shame, guilt, anxiety, and double-guessing, especially over whether I was doing things the “right” way. I wanted a personality that could plow ahead with confidence. Not foolishly, but firmly.
And then, it was time to sketch the personality that fit the role. To achieve what I wanted, I decided to expand on my cause-and-effect view of logic, where instead of asking things like “what's the right thing to do?”, this personality would ask questions like “what are my goals?”, and “what are the options I have to achieve my goals?”, and “what consequences do I face from each of these options, and are they acceptable to me?”. This I deemed the most efficient way of going about things. Thus, I knew that this personality was very logical and practical, less interested in the philosophical questions of right and wrong, but in achieving what it wants—whatever it is that it wants—to achieve.
You recall how I said personalities are driven by motivations, yes? What good is having a personality with a high drive to do things, if I didn't know what it was going to do? The motivation I gave this personality, the core of its being, was one of my own core ones—a thirst for knowledge. Not only that, but an intense desire—a compulsion, a need—to spread it.
As I fleshed out motivations and thought about how they shaped the sketch of the personality I'd created, specific traits began to fill in. I felt a sense of ruthlessness in both the role and the motivation, which was compulsive in nature. To supplement this personality's abilities, I incorporated a lot of traits people would find questionable at best, dangerous or even despicable at worst, including:
- A strong sense of ambition (to provide the drive to do)
- A detachment from the world to the point of seeing it all as an elaborate game (I reasoned back then, maybe rather foolishly, that I was getting “too attached” to people and things and it was holding me back)
- A champion bullshitting ability; a willingness to lie, and do so without shame or guilt (one of my primary difficulties was with working with difficult people, and doing this well would cut down on stress)
- An unapologetic selfishness (again, one of the things I felt was holding me back was anxiety over being selfish—I reasoned that everything was selfish in the end, and as long as it was kept in check, it could be useful)
- A certain moral nihilism (like the above, needed in order to make the jump in asking what's “right” to asking “what are my goals and how can I achieve them”)
As I did so, I continued to think back to the motivations I had established, and how they would keep the more dangerous aspects of this personality in check. I “told” this personality, enforced upon it that harming others was counterintuitive to its goal of gleaning and spreading knowledge—each person represented a unique permutation of experiences, providing them with insights that could not be found anywhere else. Harming people is something difficult to disguise, and disastrous if you were found out. And many other reasons, though they all had something in common—the reasoning I used wasn't that it was “bad”, but that it was impractical, something I knew the personality would care about as opposed to “it's wrong to hurt people”. I also worked in a healthy share of contempt—to achieve one's goals without harm to others, in fact assisting others and propagating one's goals through the ideals of others, was elegant, and achieving one's goals by brutalizing and terrorizing others into submission was inelegant and crude and a surefire way to ensure that one's cause does not live beyond one's lifespan, as Noctis puts it.
I had several inspirations in designing this personality. One was a dream character who I felt a strong attachment to. Another was Slytherin House—yes, Harry Potter's Slytherin. Specifically, my idea of what a good, even admirable Slytherin would be like—someone who was cunning, resourceful, and ambitious without being violent, small-minded, or petty. A focal point for this inspiration was actually a fanfic (you can laugh now) starring an AU version of Tom Riddle who never became the Dark Lord, but became Defense Against the Dark Arts professor instead. This is the most relevant chapter. I thought about those inspirations a lot, and from them, gleaned traits that would make someone a good teacher—creativity, a knack for explaining things (which funnily, I think corresponds with the ability to bullshit masterfully), an investment in the well-being of one's “students” to the point of going above and beyond for them—and wove them in.
Slowly, a personality took shape. A teacher, a very good one, and an intellectual. One who was inwardly ruthless, but with a relatively altruistic goal and a great deal of sensibility about reaching that goal, as well as endlessly patient—one who was in control, who wouldn't throw out their hard work in a fit of passion. One who valued subtlety and swaying over stabbing, and indeed, had a certain pride in their work. I saw an unlikely diplomat who understood that appealing to others won allies, and who, like many good diplomats, was skilled at soft deceptions.
The more I thought about this personality, the more its colors began to fill in: a formal writing style. A heavy association with Slytherin House, which meant a heavy association with snakes, the colors green and silver, and deep, dark waters. An interest in dressing well and otherwise seeming of high social standing, if for nothing else than to impress and maybe win social points. An avid reader of a great variety of material. A very focused person—one who could do small talk, yes, but mostly preferred to think. And so on, and so forth.
So that was how I designed that personality. How did I put it into play? This is where my method diverges the most.
Because I was attempting a personality reconfiguration, instead of making a tulpa, I became the personality. I took advantage of my wiring to do so—I'm an emotion sponge. Not in a good way, mind—I also soak up anger, which means if someone is angry around me, I can easily just get angry as well and, if I act on the emotion, only make things worse. But it was useful here. Writing, writing is major for me. I already knew different facets of mine spoke differently, so I devised a writing style distinct from them and associated it with the new personality, and forced myself to write in it. The more I write in a particular style, the more I find my thinking shifts. I went through the stories that provided inspiration for personality, and reread them whenever I felt my personality shifting, making myself closely follow the characters' lines of thinking. I monitored my behavior and cut myself off if I was about to do something contradictory. If there was a situation where I had to take on my old personality, I dissociated myself from it, seeing it as a role I was playing, constantly reminding myself that the personality I'd created was now my “actual” personality.
Would that work in making a tulpa for other tulpamancers? Possibly, but I wouldn't recommend it. Too many wildcards. If I'd gone in with the intent of making a tulpa, not reconfiguring my personality, I'd have instead separated the personality from me, and talked to it as if I was talking to a physical other person. In other words—following traditional tulpamancy narration techniques.
Once the personality re-emerged, this time as a person rather than a personality, changes continued to happen. There's quite a few key differences between that personality and who Noctis is now. The most crucial difference, probably, is the ability to feel emotion. One of the reasons I discarded the personality was that I realized it couldn't feel anything strongly. It couldn't feel hate/anger or fear, emotions I'd deemed muddling to a clear thought process, and it also couldn't feel love or passion. I don't think anything's happened that's evoked fear fear from Noctis yet, but he's certainly not fearless. Nor hate hate, though he's certainly felt anger—but he deals with it in an interesting way, one that surprised me. He doesn't feel blazing passion, but he certainly feels some cooler version of it. And, as cheesy as it might sound, he feels love—in the general, non-romantic sense of the word—and feels it very strongly, in not a creepy/possessive way, but in a deeply dedicated, I-will-put-aside-my-other-goals way. Though he only feels it towards the others in this system—towards anyone outside, he's still emotionally detached, something he tells me he's glad for.
He's also a lot more philosophical than the original personality. I didn't think much of establishing that the original personality possessed a sort of moral nihilism, not caring about “right” and “wrong” so much as “what accomplishes my goals in the way I want, or close enough”. Noctis, though, thinks about it a lot, to the point that sometimes we'll go back and forth on the topic at 5 AM when everyone else is asleep. And where the original personality had a sort of cool objectivity about it all, Noctis has a sort of... almost blitheness. Things have no meaning, but that's actually kinda awesome because then we can assign things our own meaning. That sort of thing.
The original personality was far from perfect, and so are Noctis's deviations from the model. The model was never petty or angry—he, on the other hand, can't resist being petty sometimes, and if he gets angry, he indulges it. In his imagination, where it won't hurt anyone, but he gladly indulges it anyway. He attempted to hold himself to the model for a time, but found that it made him miserable and that he was a lot happier rolling with the changes, even the “negative” ones. But one of the things I've learned from having him around is that perfection isn't needed. Growth and change in personality is more complicated than simply being all good or all bad.
We think of each other now as twins. He thinks in ways I can't get my head around, that even shock me sometimes. He says things that cause me to say, “Oh god, please don't say that to anyone outside of the system”. But he's a great partner. As different as our thinking can get, we know our way around each other's minds, and that makes him a thrill to work with.
– Future Topics
A list of topics I might either append to this guide or make into their own guides.
Vocality—getting verbal responses from your tulpa—and how to use personality to spur it.
Finding your tulpa's “essence”—the “impression” their presence leaves, the color and shape of their impression. This is often reliant on knowing their personality.
Our deepest thanks go out to everyone who we've bounced ideas off of, as well as the many people—hosts, tulpas, and other systemmates alike—we've met who've inspired a great deal of thought on this topic.
Also, thanks to the friends who invited us to go see Zootopia with them. I dunno if we'd been able to finish this if we hadn't had “Try Everything” looping endlessly in the background.
Maybe in the future, we'll put something deep and profound here. For now—happy forcing, and good luck!
— F./[Ca., Ac., Br.], Noctis, Rain
– Version History
Current version: 1.00 – Complete for the most part, though far from perfected. (3/24/16)
Previous versions: n/a