Visualising My Characters

I’m still in the thick of trying to get The Nightmare Child finished, the Camp is proving a great event. Whilst I don’t have much time and energy to really blog or anything right now, I thought it an idea to do another entry, even if it is a small one. I can always expand on the ideas at a later time.

So… the question asked to me: how do I go about visualising my characters?

This is something that has evolved over time. I used to have to create a list for a story, to have all of the details of how the character looked like in one place to avoid making a continuity error emerging. This was tricky and cumbersome, meaning I had to stop each time to copy and paste the new details. Maybe, with a program like Scrivener, it would be much simpler, but I feel it is not the most efficient way to do it. You need to remember exactly how you visualised, and memory fades over time. And if you have a dozen characters that are reoccurring enough to warrant keeping track of their descriptions,  It will be much harder to recall that exact description when you need it.

The system I have now developed is to use images of actors and actresses. This is something that merits a little caution: You need to know where to draw the line. The actress Scarlett Johansson took a French author to court once. She gained a partial victory, because the author – Grégoire Delacourt – had created a story where a guy was shocked to see Scarlett Johansson stride into the garage where he worked. It turned out that it was a lookalike, and she hated being seen as a sex object by everyone. She ended up having two affairs, a number of adventures in the story, before coming to an unfortunate end. The judge ruled in her favour, because  – in his opinion – it had been defamatory. The judge did, however throw out the second part of the lawsuit, which was her belief that the book had fraudulently exploited her image, celebrity and name.

What hadn’t helped the situation was the fact that the author seemed to have used her life as a starting point in creating the character. There were similarities to past affairs the real-life actress has had, though her damages were a fraction of the claim, because whilst there was the upheld defamatory claim, she had mentioned a large amount of details in various interviews over the years.This meant the information was public knowledge, and not something kept truly hidden and secret.

In any case, this highlights two things: Firstly, don’t bother with using Scarlett Johansson as a visual reference of any kind. She has had plastic surgery to have the generic beauty looks she has had (most notably her nose,) and moreover she isn’t that compelling an actress, either. (I hold up here the film Lucy, as a prime example. It is a direly terrible film.)

What I advise is this: start to look about at the lesser known actors and actresses for a visual reference. Also, look into their filmography; you can see a surprising film that, not only gives you a very different clothing style or hair colour/cut, you can end up gaining ideas that further flesh out the character. A good example is the actress Emma Roberts. (niece to Julia Roberts.) Her looks in Nancy Drew, Wild Child, 4.3.2.1.,  and the series American Horror Story: Coven, are vastly different, from preppy, to little princess, to supermarket employee, to bratty former child actress. Also, she has had both blonde and dark brown hair, which vastly changes her appearance, something used in the aforementioned Wild Child. You might also see a little plot detail, or a character action that gives you ideas for your own character. A character needs to have a spectrum of personality to be credible. So taking little pinches from various places isn’t a bad thing. Not unless you have created a clone of an existing character.

Another thing to consider is that you can alter a person’s face, or hair colour/style. I do use photo manipulation software to do just this. I have also hit the point where I will blend faces together. A case in point: I needed a character to look like a sister to another character I already had. I solved it by using the facial outline of Michelle Trachtenberg, and a couple of other features, and used the face, nose and mouth of Summer Glau. The end result was quirky, but worked; I had a face that fitted what I wanted nicely.

Of course, that means knowing a range of actors and actresses already. You can find people you want, by using a search engine, and using certain keywords, like “dashing actor mid twenties.” You then need to see what has surfaced, but you end up with options that way, and might give you ideas as to who could be suitable. Of course, you might end up with a single picture of random people to help inspire you. This has happened to me before now. The key thing is to go with the flow, and see what fits the rough idea you already have for the character’s appearance, if it exists at all. You might find it through random searching.

Hopefully, this will help people out, and serve as #one possible way to generate a character’s appearance.

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The Nightmare Child Returns…

Well, I’m trying to sneak in a blog post whilst there is a few moments to do so. Later on, there will be more word sprinting, and more scenes created in the cabin.

The cabin is much smaller this time around, but that doesn’t matter: Everyone is gelling together really well, and it is amazingly productive. A pleasant difference to April, which was wildly different. I’ll no doubt recall those events at some point.

So… what am I writing about this time around? Well, it is an effort to go and get a project finished. I have too many of them littering my hard drives, so it is a key task to get some done and dusted. So, this month, I am working on a short story from April 2014, for that particular Camp NaNoWriMo. That time, there was a collection of short stories planned, though for various reasons, i only completed two, and got quite a way into a third.

The Nightmare Child is turning into something of an oddity, in my view. It was conceived as a short story, but it is now over 17,995 words, with no sign of getting to the end as yet. So, it is likely to be a short novel, once it is all done. This means I will have to rethink the whole concept of the collection, but I am certain it will turn out for the best in the end.

So, what is this story about? Well, it is set a few years before the events of my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel, The Thorns Of Lovecraft. It was a way to show how things came to be by the time the novel occurred. I also had a request from someone who had read it to explain a small clique of girls that have brief appearances in the novel. So, this one is following the arrival at the school of Chloe Taylor-Philips, a girl who is used to being at the top of the pile, and the Alpha Princess, so to speak. But when she starts Miskatonic Academy, things change immediately for her. Now, she is either ignored, or picked on. She is the target of  a number of pranks, all of which affect her social standing.

What makes matters worse for her is that she starts to see the shadows move, and then other things begin to happen…

So, how do I feel about returning to this project? Well, it is interesting to do. I am still working on getting back into the flow of the story, but I can safely say that it is now easier to get into every session. The time away may well have helped me; I have developed the whole universe this resides in since I started that story, so I have some additional ideas I can place into it. I also have ideas as to what themes i want to try and add to the story; obsession and fear being among them. All of this to go and set things up for The Thorns Of Lovecraft.

Time will tell, though, if I can get this story finished… I rather hope so. It is a wonderfully atmospheric story in places, and certainly deserves to be completely written.

Explaining Write-Ins…

Now that the latest Camp NaNoWriMo is under way, I thought I would try to explain what a Word Sprint is. It might sound corny, it might sound like it is for advanced writers only… but really, it isn’t.

A word sprint is a period of twenty minutes, where you do nothing but write. That’s it! You just sit down, and when an agreed upon time starts, you then go and write away. You don’t stop to edit, you don’t stop to correct spelling or grammar mistakes – that comes later. Right now, you just go and write.

Then you give yourself a break of ten to twenty minutes, and then you do the whole process again.

Of course, this works best if you have at least one other person with you, but you can do it on your own. You can also do it anywhere: at home, travelling to work, in a café, at the library… All you need is a way to keep the time, and a way to write stuff down.

If you are doing a word sprint on the way to work, you might only have a mobile phone handy. Well, if it is just a smart phone, with no bluetooth keyboard attached, (and yes, that is perfectly possible to do with more up-to-date versions of Android phones…) then you will inevitably be writing less. But it doesn’t matter a bit. As long as you get writing, get words written down – and saved what you’ve done – that is all that matters.

Hopefully, I have helped to explain what a word sprint is, and have inspired you to have a few of your own. Try it… you might find you’ve written a novel without realising it!