Monday, 13 April 2015

My guide to having fun with your fictional characters

...or something like that.

I suppose there are some writers out there who are so painfully serious about their craft that they don't even raise a finger unless it has something to do with word count or the existential pain and social injustice of the human race. In my case, however, that kind of thinking would do nothing but kill my creative drive.

When I'm not writing my characters are still as real as ever in my head and constantly beg for attention. I imagine it isn't this way for writers who primarily write around some sort of cause, social concept or idea to which the characters are only vessels. I, on the other hand, feel like the characters just form in my head on their own and so their story is inevitable. (So why not do something with it and write it down?) The characters have their own value for me, they're the thing that makes me want to write, so obviously I enjoy thinking about them even when I'm not making direct progress with a novel.

Just thinking about them is hardly enough for me though. I almost always feel the need to have some kind of tangible form for these... extra activities with my characters. Drawing them in various pictures that try to capture their essense or some situation in their life is the most straightforward way of course, but sometimes that also seems too serious and purposeful and ceases to be any fun or relaxing since my perfectionism tends to manifest the most in writing stories and drawing ”serious art”. That's why I sometimes feel the need to engage in forms of creation which celebrate brain farts. :D And ignore my inner perfectionist who is never satisfied with any outcome.

The main purpose of these activities for me is, well, play and relaxation but it's not like they're entirely useless from a writing point of view either, since they definitely bring aspects of the characters, which I may have ignored, to daylight and so provide me a better understanding of their entire person and story. That's also why I think these activities can be useful to any writer at some point, since it's easy to lose perspective if you're too immersed in your story for too long time.

So, for my own reflection and for the amusement of anyone who may find it entertaining (or even useful) I'm going to go over my favourite outlets for having fun with my fictional characters.

Drawing memes is definitely one of them, and widely popular form around the internet. If you're on Deviantart you cannot escape the meme randomness. I mostly stick to one form of it: number replacement memes. Basically, they give you a series of situations which have numbers representing the characters and you just randomly sign each character one of those numbers and then draw them in whatever situations the meme says. When I can't find good ones online, I have my roommate make some situations up for me. xD After all, it's more fun to get unbiased situations. If I make them up myself, they might actually rise from the characters and that's not the point of this activity.

For writers who have trouble getting a grip of their character in the beginning of creating a story, this might also be one of the greatest ways of learning about their characters' personalities and relationships.

The memes are also possibly the funniest way ever to pick on your characters' quirks and weaknesses.

Sketching with music, is something I do fairly often as well. (Especially when I'm in a train or a buss). It's a great way to get out of perfectionism's grip, since there's only a few minutes to spend on each sketch! So, I just put my playlist on and channel my characters through the songs. Usually each song immediately brings one of my characters to mind and then I do a quick sketch representing what that song means from that character's viewpoint. Sometimes I also sum it up in some kind of allegorical phrase in the picture.

This one I drew while listening to Emilie Autumn's song "Rapunzel".

Crossovers with my favourite stories aren't something I do that often because it would inspire me to make too long stories if I let myself think about it and I don't have time for that, (since I couldn't actually use them for anything purposeful) so I tend to just repress these ideas. But sometimes I try to make something short out of them. I don't actually write stories where my characters meet characters from other works of fiction but I sometimes like to throw my characters into another setting that I know well, such as, well Hogwards for example. Like I said, I see very little point in actually writing about it so I just do stuff like make my characters short ”student profiles” or something, because it's facinating to think about which house they would be in, which subjects they'd be good at, what their daily life would be like in the wizarding world.

Anyway, I avoid this activity but sometimes it's just too much fun. :)

Poems and Monologues narrated by characters I like to write fairly often. I usually use some kind of word list for this, like the various ”100 theme challenges” around the web. I like to have a theme word, which I interpret from the character's viewpoint and then write a poem or a monologue around that word. Storywise this has got to be one of the most productive of these activities since I usually end up summarizing a dilemma, an agenda, or something in their story, in a way that helps me express it better in the actual story. Sometimes I even come up with something I could use as a prology for the story. And these are not something I could come up with when I'm in the flow of moving the story forward.

Drawing opening videos for a story, obviously takes quite a lot of time so I've actually only done it a few times (and have way too many great songs I'd like to make an opening video with but it's hardly worth the time). But it's definitely something unique, as it really gives a life to the characters. I don't have the patience to learn animation but slide shows with special effects are really inspiring too, especially in the beginning of the writing process. They provide a feeling of... legitimateness, I guess. xD Really gives you the feeling your characters are no longer just inside your head.

Drawing short humor comics of characters or making a scene in a story into a comic form is something I often do. The first is sort of an alternative of the memes since they usually turn out just as random. The second one is a great form of reflection, since it often allows me to see a scene from a new perspective and make its description more vivid since I get a better grasp on how the characters' emotions, motives and surroundings actually get through visually. It often makes me see the details that bring the scene into life (at least in my eyes). My advice to anyone who is having trouble with a particular scene: Draw it! But it's also just fun because I get to experience my favourite moments in the story again in another form.

Here's a part of a comic scene I actually even started colouring (with grey water colour). I don't usually do that. :D

Fairytale retellings should probably be a sub-category of crossovers but it's a different enough thing for me. This is actually greatly inspired by school life manga. So many of them have a chapter where the class is performing a play of a classic fairytale but it gets pretty messed up because the students' personalities and relationships change the course of the original tale. I always find it extremely hilarious so I've often done the same with my characters (though it's not usually in a play form). I did this quite a lot when I was younger but now it's something I avoid too, since it's not that beneficial for the actual story. Anyway, the thoughts still sometimes can't help but occur to me: This character would really bring a new side to Cinderella's story! (Maybe I'll get and actual fairytale retelling novel done someday.)

Here's a very quick and bad sketch I drew (and a monologue) while I was inspired to put a character of mine into the Little Mermaid's shoes.

Writing character theme songs is something I don't have the patience to do very often since I'm not very good at playing any instrument. (Like, seriously I probably don't do it more than once a year anymore.) I get more lyrics written than actually making them into a whole piece but when I do, it feels like worth it. After all it's nice if I don't have to steal other people's music to represent my characters' feelings all the time. :)

And, finally, the Absolutely Unproductive Stuff that sometimes occurs in the state of complete lack of energy:

  • Answering nonsensical tests on behalf of characters. I probably haven't done this in a couple of years but there definitely are times when I suddenly seem to find it very relevant to see what jewel, movie, genre of music or element etc. my characters resemble. xD
  • Using Doll Makers to recreate characters. This can definitely be fun when I have a total art block.

    I like using the LOTR doll maker in Dolldivine because it has the best variety of facial features and clothes and stuff. And I kinda like how the guys are all stepping on each other's toes in this one. xD

  • Listening to music while imagining my characters appear in the songs like in a music video. Yeah, sort of overlaps with the sketch & opening video stuff but these fantasies I never plan to put into a visual form in the first place. Sometimes I actually imagine the characters performing the songs. That sure is fun.

Ok, I think that's about it. :D I've let another aspect of my weirdness out there, and would gladly hear what other writers/artists do with their fictional characters!

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