Visualising My Characters, Part 2

Last month, I ended up talking about how I go about visualising my characters. There is some more I can say on the topic, I feel.

As already stated, I use pictures from the internet to help me come up with decent enough matches to what I have in mind. I use actors and actresses, because you then tend to have a much better range; they tend to be in a number of productions over a number of years, thus allowing you to be able to look at them younger  – or older – than they would be in the story you are writing.

That said, I don’t always do that. Sometimes, through a random search, you find someone, who has an outfit that intrigues, and you try to see if there is more images of that person. Sometimes, you can find a few more. Sometimes none. Then you might have a person who has placed a couple hundred images of themselves, over a number of social media sites.

This might seem like stalking, but the key thing to understand is that I am interested in useful likenesses, and fashion concepts. Simply put, you cannot invent everything, and someone else’s bright fashion idea can readily inspire you, and you then go and adapt it for your story.

In times past, you would be looking in newspapers, keeping clippings, taking pictures and storing them in protective sleeves… nowadays, you can find useful information and images on a computer, and store them on a computer as well. This helps a lot, because now, we have software to keep track of plot details and so forth, so organisation of character sketches is a much more simpler, efficient affair… if you know how to do it.

Another thing to consider is the age of the person in the image you are referring to. It might be too young, too old… but with a little understanding of photo manipulation and editing,you can develop a simple mock-up that, whilst not elegant, gets you the description you need. You can even tweak things, turning day into night as well. Once you understand that you can make things translucent, you can create colour “filters,” that alter how something looks to a degree. It can also help to balance out lighting between photo element, too.

No photo edit, in my opinion, is ever perfect, so you should not worry if you use such programs, and you have a mistake in the image. You are not trying to create a magazine cover, you are trying to create inspiration for your story.

Another thing I like to do is try to work out the basics of a character: How old are they? Have they finished school, and if so, what level/grade were they at departure? Did they go to university? Do they have a job? Do they have parents, and if so, what are they like? Do they have siblings? Who are their friends?

It isn’t important if these details don’t end up in the story. What is important is that you understand the character, and have confidence in your knowledge and understanding of them.

Hopefully this hasn’t been a pointless ramble. I get paranoid like that; I produce something that will be either unhelpful, uninteresting, or both. With luck, it is neither.

I also suspect I will end up going back to this topic again at some point, and add some more to the topic, when i end up thinking of more to say. So folks, you’ve been warned! (I say in jest.)

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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.