Thursday, February 13, 2014

And This Is Why Characters Have Taken Over My Brain

Ello everyone! Since I am snowed in and bored out of my mind, I thought I would share how the physical attributes of my characters typically evolve. Now, we all know physical attributes are the least important part of characterization, but accurately picturing a character always helps me further create his/her backstory, personality, quirks, etc.

Every writer I've spoken to creates characters differently. This post is simply what almost always seems to happen to me personally. Hopefully, it will be entertaining, but I don't expect it to help you picture your characters. If it does, awesome! If not, I hope you still enjoy! :)

The first spark of a character idea typically comes from other characters. There I admitted it! My characters are originally based off of other characters! But by the time I finish everything, they are usually VERY different. If they are not drastically different from the character that inspired them, I scrap them. End of story. I'm not going to steal another writer's character. Good writing or acting just tends to inspire me, that's all.

Doc as portrayed by Val Kilmer
The example I will be using throughout this post is from my new story idea, that I will call Story D until I decide to announce the title. This character was inspired by Doc Holliday as portrayed by Val Kilmer in 'Tombstone'. Basically, the thought that ran through my mind was, "What would a female version of Doc be like?"

I started to think about her. I researched the real Doc Holliday and read about him. I already knew that the character's backstory was very different from Doc's, but it had similarities too. They were both rich by inheritance. Both are dying from a disease. Both are the equivalent of Southern genteel gone vagabond. Both are gamblers. But they had differences too. Doc was described by his friend Wyatt Earp as being "the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew". I knew almost immediately that she would be fairly worthless in a fight. Her world has guns, but I didn't see her being exceptionally good at them. I think she would rely more on blackmail and magic in a fight-even if it means betraying her friends. Doc would have never betrayed his friends. She is in her early twenties, Doc was in his thirties. She is antagonistic towards people she should probably respect, Doc is lackadaisical unless someone threatens his friends.

I continued to think about her backstory and personality until she was very different from Doc. Once I was sure that I could keep her because she was different enough, I decided to name her. (It's kinda like in Monster's Inc. "Once you name it, you start getting attached to it!" It hurts to scrap characters I've already named.)

I knew her name had an "El" in it somewhere. It just fit. Elise? Too girly. Elle? Too simple. Eleanor? Too sophisticated. I also knew that I wanted her name to be hyphenated because many Southern women and girls have hyphenated first names. Her fantasy country is based on the South, so I felt like she should have a classic name, but with a twist. And an "El" in it. I also knew she needed a middle name, because again, trying to stick with Southern naming techniques. And I wanted her to have a funky last name because she was turning out to be a rather quirky character.

That's a lot of stipulations, but barriers always help me narrow down my choices. After about half an hour on, I finally had her complete name. I'll spare you all the tedious details of narrowing it down, and searching name meanings. In the end, her name was...

(last name pronounced TAM-EE-SIS)

I know, it's a mouthful. But I like it. It fits her very nicely. It also leaves room for the other characters to shorten it and call her different things, thus showing their personality as well. One character might call her "Ms. Tamesis" while another might just call her "Dacey". Obviously I won't do too many variations because I don't want it to get confusing, but it will work if I keep it limited.

Now I needed to know what she looked like. It's funny, after thinking about characters for so long, I tend to have an image in my head that I can't describe. It's like a foggy photograph that a camera sees clearly, but the photographer can't decipher. That's the best way I can describe it. And I've found, sitting down and typing out physical attributes I think I see in the photograph, just doesn't work. It leads to confusion and...wrongness. I need to get it right.

I'm not an artist, by any means, but my mom is and she has taught art classes for years. Everything from watercolor to acrylic to sketching to cartoons to manga. Manga is my favorite. It's easy to learn and I find it the most useful. Whenever I have a foggy character image in my head, I turn to manga. I grab a pen so I can't erase and I just let my hands draw without thinking about it.

I didn't have a pen when I sat down to do Dacey-Ellis (I was babysitting) but I did find a pencil missing an eraser which is the next best thing. After about fifteen minutes, this was the result.

Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it REALLY helped me. Her sloped in cheeks caused by the sickness that is killing her. Low-cut neckline (don't worry, she's NOT the hero lol). Heavy jewelry and makeup (lips always represent makeup to me for some reason. I don't know why). Ridiculous amount of necklaces, almost as if she's...flaunting? To who? Why? Hair piled on top of her head haphazardly with jewels randomly stuck in it. Fashionable, but she doesn't really care anymore. Because she's dying? Or something else? Or both?

As you can see, drawing the character helps me further the backstory and personality even more. Traits I didn't know she had suddenly appeared. Coy. Sneaky. Smart. But I wasn't done yet. I could end here, I suppose, but I like seeing a real person, not a sketch, as I write. Sometimes the character's face just pops in my head, even if I've never seen a picture of the face. Like Ember. I know exactly what she looks like, but I've never found a picture or seen anyone with her face. But that just wasn't happening with Dacey-Ellis. So I took to Pinterest and started scouring character boards to find someone who resembled my manga picture. Usually, it's people I've never seen before who are posing for photoshoots or something of that nature. Only occasionally is it someone recognizable. (Hail Frost looks like Richard Armitage)

Well, Dacey-Ellis was one of those "occasionally's" because she looks EXACTLY like Helena Bonham-Carter. Which is totally awesome because she's an amazing and quirky actress.

Helena Bonham-Carter

Well, I certainly hope this was entertaining. Characters are always fun to discover. I can't wait to write Story D and get to know Miss Dacey-Ellis Azalea Tamesis even better! :)


  1. Fun post! Love the insights into your thought process!

    And I love Helena :) she's awesome, particularly as Beatrix Le'Strange, but I first met her as Morgose (I think) in the movie Merlin with Sam Neil, which is very good (with the exception of one really bad scene that we always fast-forward). She does a villain extremely well. Every now and then it's fun to see her play a non-villain though, because it shows she really can act as well as I thought she could.

    Dacey-Ellis sounds like a very fun character. Can't wait to read all about her!

    1. P.S. I'm incredibly jealous of your drawing ability. I wish I could sketch my characters... like, at all. :)

    2. I'm glad you liked it! :)

      She's an amazing actress! I've not seen either of the movies you mentioned (yet another reason I need to read Harry Potter...) but I'm very impressed with her acting in 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', and (even though I disliked the movie) 'Les Miserables'.

      Dacey-Ellis is quite a handful. I've not even written her yet and already she's causing...problems. ;)

      Thanks! That's really all I can do though. If you want to learn how, you can go to Michaels and look in the drawing aisle. They have quick "beginner" books in manga that are very simple and teach all I really use when sketching characters. :)

  2. New characters are fun to meet. But I have a terrible time sketching them if I do not have a model.

    1. Meeting new characters is one of my favorite things about writing! It gets easier for me to draw the characters after I have a model too. I'll usually go back and draw him or her in manga again after I have found his or her "real-life" model. :)

  3. I love how you bring it all together! (Aren't those baby name sites wonderful?) I love her name. And how you described her. But it got me all curious about Doc Holiday. I didn't know he was dying from an illness. (I know next to nothing about him. For years I thought he was a made up legend because of how his stories are pretty much legends now.) I should find some information on him.
    Oh, and the world you hinted at. I think that sounds wonderful too! I can't wait to hear more abotu the story!

    1. Thanks! I can't wait to tell more about Story D! (I'll announce the title as soon as I have actually decided on one...hehe...)

      Doc was really a fascinating man. He's such a bizarre mixture of good and bad, and one of the reasons I love Tombstone is because I think Val Kilmer really captured that aspect of him perfectly. When I researched Doc, I mostly read through this site: It's really good and has a lot of good information on him along with other important people in his life, like Wyatt Earp and "Big Nose" Kate. :)