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! 

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.

You Have a Genius

Elizabeth Gilbert‘s TED Talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius is an inspiring and eye-opening talk on the expectations society places on artists and geniuses. Definitely 19 minutes worth everyones time.

“Maybe [artistry] doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished … it starts to change everything.”Elizabeth Gilbert

Footprints in the Sands of Time…

 

 

When I was nine I memorized this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “The Psalm of Life”. It inspired me to create; to make stuff; make art. No matter what.

Old penguin classics with yellowing pages where the very first books I read. It took longer than most children to coax me into learning to read. Poor literature like the Dick and Jane books with their “Go, Spot, Go!”. I figured if that’s what books look like I would have more fun with mud.

Luckily I discovered Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson and his A Child’s Garden of Verse. Simple words weaved into prose that took my imagination to foreign lands. “..To where the roads on either hand Lead onward into fairy land, Where all the children dine at five, And all the playthings come alive.” That little book inspired me and I kept on reading.

Discovering the tales told by clever Scheherazade to out smart the Sultan in “One Thousand and One Nights”. The dangerous adventures of Detective Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s series of detective novels and stories.

I remember each and every good story I’ve read and feel as if I experienced it myself. Why? What’s the formula, what’s the key to this kind of work? Imagine your mind as a universe. Galaxies, planets and stars all created by you. Created with a simple thought.
You are like a tiny God within this mysterious endless world that waits to be discovered. A world that waits to be brought into our own through your art. Now grab your laptop or a pencil and your notebook and start writing, drawing, recording. That’s how I rid myself of creative blocks and find the drive to finish my work.

Imagination is like the universe, limitless. We unknowingly limited it with our fears and doubts. “Will it work?” “Will it sell?” “Is it a terrible piece of art or literature?” This line of thinking stomps out your creativity and leaves you desperate and depressed. Forget all the rules, the do’s and don’ts and most importantly the have-to’s and create from your heart. Stories that last are stories told directly from the heart.

Those fears of “Being a starving artists” “No one cares about your work” or “No one appreciates my work.” useless thoughts that drain you out. I have no idea what this crap is doing running around my brain sometimes but I think those depressing thoughts just might be there as a warning sign. It usually happens when we need a break; like a long walk or cozy nap; or need to stop procrastinating and create something; anything; no matter what.

After many years of successful ideas and very bad ideas I’ve learned to treasure all of them. This thing that we do with making art or words or moving pictures is something special; something sacred. It might not make you famous or a millionare but it will inspire someone somewhere and that’s what keeps me going. I’d love to leave just a little footprint in the sands of time that might just shine a little hope into someone’s life.

A Psalm of Life
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.