Constructing a Character : Visualization

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For me a visual reference helps keep my mind in focus and really feel and experience what I’m writing about.

Previously in my Constructing a Character Pt.1 I showed ways of finding inspiration. Now I’ll show you another way to approach constructing a character for your film or short story.

Here is a quick example I scribbled:

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The above image would usually come about when I’m sitting around playing with a theme in my mind. This character theme could be “everyday people with superpowers” or something like that. Then I branch off to the first thing that comes to mind, for me it was a girl in a red dress wearing blue converse sitting alone at a bar. I quickly sketch that out and from there play with other concepts. A pyrokinetic with an odd fashion sense. Then from there I imagine a few ways we could introduce her to the audience along with her powers.

The sketches aren’t meant to be storyboard quality. It’s just one of my methods of brainstorming.

The Mental Process Step-By-Step

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I’ll see a person in my mind sometimes I’ll immediately start sketching them down or I’ll ask myself these questions and then draw then out:

“Who are they?”
“What makes them a unique individual?”
“What story are they telling about themselves with the way they look?”

The Character Book 

Just like someone might have a book of ideas written down I find the things I do are a combination of both. Rough sketches of characters along side key points about them.

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This kind of process is useful if you have a little bit of an artistic or design background. I do and that’s why I really like this approach. If you don’t feel like sketching but still are very much a visual thinker and like to see your ideas try a little Photoshop magic.

The Character Collage

Use Adobe Photoshop and Google Image to stitch together a scene or character.
That way you have a visual reference you can easily share with others.

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In the above image I can start brainstorming about her backstory, where she’s from and the obstacles she encounters in the story.

Adobe also has a free mobile and iPad app Adobe Photoshop Mix that helps you easily cut up and create a collage from images you capture on your phone.

There is never a single way to expressing this mysterious power called creativity. Sketch out your characters, or write a journal pretending to be them, make collages or act them out.

Find ways to express your story through words or through images, whatever you choose, have fun with it! 

Edgar Wright and Visual Comedy

I absolutely love Tony Zhou’s analysis of Edgar Wright’s use of visual comedy. This is a brilliant video! Defiantly has some sweet ideas to spice up your editing, cinematography, and everything else that might be missing that extra punch.

This makes me want to go and re-watch Shaun of the Dead, Hot FuzzThe World’s End and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Check out Tony Zhou’s Vimeo channel where he’s got a bunch of other great videos.

Constructing a Character : Inspiration

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People are fascinating their lives are a complex web of stories constantly rewriting themselves according to beliefs, choices and experiences.

I love listening to people talk recounting a funny thing that happened on the way to the grocery store or an amazing life changing event it’s all interesting to me. I’ll observe the unique way someone talks, their mannerisms, habits, and personality. There’s no end to the uniqueness of a person.

How do we show all of that on paper and make an amazing memorable character for a film, web-series, comic book or novel?

You can use character generators as a starting point but I’d recommend being very creative with it as opposed to just copying the description as is.

Mix it up and reinterpret the description for example this is a character generated from Archetype’s Character Generator:Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 4.12.59 PMHere’s a short example of my brainstorm around this generated character:

“Alright, let’s look up ‘religiosity’ to see how we can interpret that. She doesn’t have to have a specific religion maybe just her own rituals, moral code and maybe carry something that’s deeply symbolic for her. Her weakness is a sports addiction.. hmm.. What if she takes part in sports betting? What sport? Let’s pick one at random like chess boxing! Prized possession is a copy of Nostradamus’ predictions. What if that’s part of her religiosity? That’s a little obvious.. How can we make this more unique? What if she interprets the predictions in a way that helps her place her bets? Or it’s an old hardcover that was converted into a hollow book to hide secret gambling information? The last idea sounds kind of fun I’ll go with that one.” Now the story can begin to unfold around the book, her beliefs and her gambling problems. I can go back change things around and combine it with other ideas.

It’s important to really get inside the head of your characters and breathe some life into them.

Use character questionnaires to help you flesh out your character. You can also use the questions as prompts in your freewriting.

Sometimes I like to freewrite a page or so from a character’s journal. If you’ve never kept a journal it’s essentially a place to go over personal musings, philosophies, rants, and keeping track of day to day activities. Have your character take some time out and muse about their lives.

Create an interview with that character using questions that would help you examine their personality, motivations and life history. Also take a look at real interview questions and watch some talk shows and imagine how your characters would answer. Think about how their body language, posture, and habits would show.

Have fun with it!

If you feel like your character is still too flat, cliche or somethings missing take a break go out for a bit watch some real life people then come back to the writer’s desk.

Here are some resources for more character related inspiration..

 

How to Write a Heroine

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The process of writing the heroine is the same as writing the hero. Both are on a journey that brings out courage and tests their quality of character. Both share similar definitions in the dictionary and both have annoying cliches based on gender.

 

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Let’s expand on the definition and say…

  • Courage can also be defined by determination, adventurousness and fearlessness.
  • An act of bravery can be defined by a risk that is honorable.
  • Noble qualities in his or her character can be compassion, ambition, vision, ect.

Think like your heroine…

  • What fuels my determination and causes me to be fearless?
  • Why would I take this risk?
  • What is it that’s motivating me to help?
  • If there is a problem how do I solve it?
  • What resources do I have within myself and around me to solve it?

A common cliche is the heroine being a weaker version of the hero. Stereotypically where the hero excels the heroine almost manages to succeed.

I feel that character flaws like self doubt and fear are great for both the hero and heroine but the goal is that eventually through their journey they overcome them. Isn’t turning fear into courage what makes someone heroic?

There are many more options than the damsel in distress cliche.

For example the alien invasion plot presented in How to Write a Hero.
Let’s explore how we create the escaping heroine instead of the damsel in distress…

During the first wave of alien invasion the heroine finds herself in the middle of war. The local k-mart she works at has become an intergalactic battlefield. She takes up arms fighting her way out eventually teaming up with local towns people. In a desperate stand off between space monster and man they drive back the invaders and the town remains standing. But, wait! In a sudden change of events the heroine is beamed aboard an alien warship. Using whatever she finds in her pockets and her advanced knowledge in mechanics she escapes the alien laser prison and cleverly takes over the alien spaceship. Landing the ship outside town humankind now has the first piece needed in ending the space wars. 

This plot concept presents these key points:

  • The heroine takes a stand along side her fellow towns people
  • She uses her knowledge and skill to devise an escape
  • Escaping heroine instead of damsel in distress

Analyzing your own work and understanding what you’re trying to say with the characters you create and the story they inhabit is important. As well as looking at the cliches and stereotypes your characters have to deal with. It allows you to play with more ideas, add depth to their personality and tell a meaningful story.

How to Write a Hero

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Before I begin I need to clarify that this is not a list of demands for the mainstream media or any writer but instead a self revelation and some personal thoughts on the topic of masculinity and a little brainstorming on how to create and portray a hero.

There’s a lot of discussion and resources on how women are portrayed in video games, film and popular culture. It’s inspiring, empowering and challenging to research as a woman. It also got me thinking if this is how the female leads are supposed to be portrayed what kind of crap are we writing into our male leads?

To be blunt there’s a lot of those apathetic muscle bound heroes or sexy sad vampire stalkers. Is a hero really nothing more than a gym membership and dysfunctional personality?

Popular culture and society might be all up in my face about what makes a real man and there is pressure to create hollow heroes. This contradicts with my moral compass and integrity as a writer and human being.

So, what is the definition of a hero then? 

Dictionary.com describes a hero as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”

In order to create our hero we should be asking ourselves these questions…

  • What makes a person courageous?
  • Why would someone do something brave?
  • What are noble qualities and how do they show in a person?

Think like your hero…

  • Why would I put myself through this?
  • What is at risk here?
  • What is it that I am sacrificing and why is it worth it?
  • What is it that’s motivating me to help?
  • How do I solve this problem?
  • Who’s help do I need?

The hero always goes on a journey of some kind. Metaphorical or physical it is a test of his courage and quality of character. The end of the journey is often the result or reward and the driving motivation for his journey.

A typical summer movie will make his motivation for saving the world a hot girl that he gets to make-out with. Which essentially makes the heroes motivation sex and generally that’s not considered a brave deed.

Let’s say the hero is saving the world from space aliens.

What if his motivation is the well being and safety of his community and his courage is demonstrated by not being intimidated by the superior space technology.

One of his noble qualities is believing in the strength and skills of the heroine and teaming up with her to protect his planet from an invasion.

He invents something with the help of his community to take down the invading space armada. In the end he is rewarded with a safer universe and the prosperity of his community through the invention of this new technology.

Some key points this plot makes is…

  • Community & society as motivation to do good
  • Belief in the talents and courage of his fellow human beings regardless of gender, race, nationality, etcetera
  • Using innovation and collaboration as a solution to our problems

As a storyteller I should aim higher for a great story, a courageous, daring, inspiring and meaningful story because a hero is constructed to achieve great things and in doing so inspires his fellow human beings to change the world.

Avoiding popular clichés and stereotypes makes space for more creative innovation.

Even though I’m not a dude I find it offensive that often popular culture chooses to portray a real man as some primeval beast with a lack of emotion that has no choice over his sexual and physical impulses. This is not a healthy image for boys or men to have of themselves.

You are all so much more awesome than that and carry the great potential of a hero within you. All you need to do is something courageous.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort
and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pure Pwnage : Teh Movie

Back in the days before YouTube people shared their web-series, short films and independent features on their own websites, through bitTorrent (legally), Stage6, AtomFilms and iFilm.

I can’t exactly recall how I ran across Pure Pwnage but I remember my friends and I were hooked. I especially loved FPS Doug because at the time I played a lot of Counter-Strike and I grew up on the classics like Quake.

It was a series created by gamers for gamers and I loved all eighteen episodes of it and wished for more when it came to a sudden halt.

The internet has changed considerably since 2004 especially because of YouTube. Video became a standard on mobile devices. Quantity often compromises quality and that’s what independent filmmakers can take of advantage.

In the vast ocean of the internet lay many brilliant series and films that have sunk to the bottom of it but the story of Pure Pwnage should give them all hope to rise again.

Pure Pwnage started in 2004 as a web-series it amassed a cult following in the gaming community and was turned into a television series in 2010 boardcast on Showcase and Australia’s ABC2.

The web-series began with mockumentary style episodes about gamers and gamer culture created by two gamers Jarret Cale and Geoff Lapaire. The series gave birth to several internet memes like “BOOM! Headshot”.

They had success with over three million views and became a part of gaming culture. It’s humor and style connected with gamers around the world. Sadly the series came to an abrupt ending after the death of it’s cast member Troy Dixon in 2008.

In 2010 they got a contract for a television series. Many of their online fans did not connect with the commercial and mainstream feel. Since the show was broadcast only in Canada they could not reach their global web audience any longer.
The show had a strong viewership and was nominated for three Gemini Awards and won Best Direction. Despite it’s success after eight episodes it was canceled.

Announcing the show’s cancellation on Showtime Pure Pwnage co-creator Jarett Cale addressed the topic of the web-series by stating:

“After struggling to continue the web series myself, I’ve now placed it on indefinite hold. While this doesn’t mean it’s officially ‘dead’, that is unfortunately the most likely outcome. In hindsight I suppose I should have stopped work on the web series along with Geoff back in September 2008. In the end, my desire to finish the series only served to heighten your disappointment. I’m sorry for that. I wasn’t and will never be comfortable leaving the story where it is, although that’s something I might just have to accept.”

An eighteen episode web-series with no ending and a canceled eight episode television series would make anyone quit. On Cale and Lapaire decided to make Pure Pwnage: Teh Movie and announced their crowd funding campaign on IndieGoGo.

“We’ve made web episodes with a budget of ten dollars. We’ve made TV episodes with a budget of a million. We’ve had the incredible opportunity to engage in all elements and mediums of video creation… except one. We want to make a movie. But not just any movie, we want to make THE gamer movie, the one that finally does justice to online gaming and Internet culture on the big screen. We feel that Hollywood has continually (and often epically) failed to deliver on this front. So we want to pwn Hollywood like somebody’s mom playing Call of Duty and we need your help to do it.”

The campaign spread rapidly across internet forums and blogs in just 24 hours they reached their goal of $75,000 all together making over $211,300 dollars.

Cale and Lapaire created one of the first web-series for gamers by gamers and left an impression on their audience that was not forgotten. Allowing a community to grow around the series was a great way to build a strong audience which is integral to the success of any series or brand.

Let them know you’re listening to their ideas and complaints while incorporating your own vision and message and you’ve got the ground work for a great series, film or game.

I hope ROFLMAO productions has fun pwning noobs while making their awesome movie.

Story of the Kinematoscope

The Zoetrope was invented in 1833. At that time films were but a parlor trick.

Following it’s invention dozens of toys using the same model sprung up all around England. Like the Daedaleum, Thaumatrope, Stroboscope, Kaleidorama and the Phenakistocope. These are seen as some of the first attempts at animation.

Before Edison’s Kinetoscope was developed in 1888, a leap forward for film was being made by Doctor Coleman Sellers II who invented the The Kinematoscope and patented it in 1861. It was the first machine to give illusion of real people moving.

“My invention consists in substituting rapidly and without confusion to the eye, not only of an individual, but when desired to a whole assemblage, the enlarged images of a great number of pictures taken simultaneously and successively at very short intervals. The observer will believe that he sees only one image, which gradually changes by reason of the successive changes of form and position of the object which occur from one picture to the next. Even supposing there be a slight interval of time during which the same object was not shown, the persistence of the luminous impression upon the eye will fill the gap. By means of my apparatus I am enabled especially to reproduce the passing of a procession, a review of military maneuvers, and, if so desired, the grimaces of a human face.” – From How Motion Pictures are Made by Homer Croy


If Doctor Sellers had a greater vision for the use of his Kinematoscope his contributions to the technology of motion pictures could have been astounding.

A common quote by Arthur Schopenhauer states;
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Schopenhauer talked about society. Sadly we artists, filmmakers, writers and inventors often do this to our own. Crippling the growth of our ideas before they even begin to fully blossom.

Fun writing challenges we take on, the doodles we make, the screenplay we jotted down and the project we’re tinkering with in the garage are worth more than we think. Our craziest ideas are sometimes our best and the things we create for fun, those will inevitably lead us to success.

Creative vision is like a fire we have to keep from burning out. Kindle it with swimming, hiking, meditation, music, painting and anything that de-stresses and fuels your right brain magic. Then get right back to work in your writer’s chair or editing bay.

 “Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world.” – Jane Addams

 

J.J. Abrams and The Mystery Box

A must watch for writer’s seeking inspiration is a TED Talk where J.J. Abrams shares the source of his ideas. He talks about being inspired by the feelings of hope, potential, infinite possibilities and mystery that an old box he owns since childhood with a giant question mark painted on it’s side represents.

What’s inside the mystery box?

“I realized that blank page is a mystery box. It needs to be filled with something fantastic.” – J.J. Abrams

“In whatever it is that I do, I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential.”
— J.J. Abrams

Hope this TED talk inspires you as much as it has inspired me.