November 26, 2020, 10:36:41 AM

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Author Topic: Visualising Characters  (Read 1354 times)

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Offline Hikari

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Visualising Characters
« on: February 26, 2020, 03:54:09 PM »
Dunno if this is better in the artists board since you’d imagine they do this more... but imma put it here cause it’s about becoming a better writer.

So continuing the trend of me being doodoo at making characters. How do yall visualise your characters? I’ll explain, I have a character, I know their backstory, their basic info and personality traits. That’s all good, I’ll give you an example: got a character called Murakami, male, hunter, archery enthusiast, former soldier, seen some Vietnam flashbacks, bit of a loner, extremely anti social, very confident in his skills and a little bit of an a hole. Now with that I got... well for some reason I got nada. You fine ladies and gentlemen got some sorta trick to seeing what your character should look like? Yall wizards or am I just “special”?

Offline legomaestro

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2020, 04:36:27 PM »
Archetypes make the world go round. We've seen Kirito several times, but it's possible to make him radically different even if it's basically the same look: Black coat, short black hair, thin lithe form.

What about the noir hero or the anti-hero? That's usually a bearded square jawed dude with frowning eyes and a bomber jacket. Definitely top heavy. Most likely smokes or drinks and is beaten up some way or the other. Hellboy fits this even if he's skin is red.

Trust in archetypes to get your characters out of the door. Their uniqueness comes from their unique struggles and actions. They shine even more in how they interact with the world rather than whether their blood type is B or A or something.

I'd say someone like Murakami who fought in Vietnam? Is a Japanese-American soldier. Possibly a sniper. I just recently watched a South Korean TV Series on Netflix called Vagabond so if I absolutely had to have a photo reference I'd look for him as the main character.

Otherwise I honestly for practical reasons wouldn't sweat it. It's definitely one of my holy grails to be able to describe facial features properly, but I'm not that visual of a person so rely on basic building blocks of character (thin, fat, ugly, handsome, long, short, tall, wide e.t.c)

Pro-tip: Imperfection is a great way to define a character. So scars, wounds, burns, lost limbs, heavy accents, moral depravity

Offline Hikari

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2020, 04:58:42 PM »
My bad, when I mentioned Vietnam flashbacks, it’s my stupid humour sense. Basically the guy went through a lot of sh*t in a big war (series he’s a part of is my attempt to make a fantasy world). I’ll look into archetypes, I just would love to envision what my fictional kids look like

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2020, 05:10:07 PM »
Pretty much all of what Lego said.
For my original characters I typically have a base character that is very similar, from either film or anime. And then you note the differences. Like, "Ichigo from bleach, but less brooding and more outgoing and funny" something like that. Or "looks like X, personality of Y". Or mix tropes that you think suit them.
Making your characters have features that make them stand out, like they aren't just loud, they are very loud. I read a blog or something, maybe here, that suggested making each character "the most XYZ in the world", they are the best chef, the loudest complainer, the kindest comforter.
As Lego points out, some visual can be related to their personality, like their expression, their hairstyle or outfit - things that relate to their personality. Or scars that relate to their life experiences. Necklaces of someone that died that they always wear and so on.
I basically draw a basic character base and say "OK make it more X", and then just keep redrawing until it gets closer to what I think the character might look like.
In real life people basically have random faces with a bias to their genetics, but still it's quite random from person to person. So sometimes it's just the first face we think of that ends up being what they look like, even though they could have looked like something else.
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Offline Lord Kesashi

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2020, 12:55:28 AM »
You're having trouble because their appearance is very arbitrary. There's no formula, but there are ways to approach it. You can design the appearance against the personality, or with it.

Example: character uses a giant battle axe.

Big Hulking man with a giant battle axe
Little girl with a giant battle axe.

Being a little girl works against the concept of having a character use a heavy weapon. However, this adds depth to the character, makes them more interesting especially when the writer can give a good reason for why this little girl is a capable fighter with a weapon she wouldn't normally be able to pickup.

But it also makes them less believable, the big hulking man is more of a flat character. It's a design we're very familiar with, and he could have depth in other ways. Like being a pacifist, great with animals, etc.

In real life, we don't get to choose our height, hair color, eye color, skin color, so these traits don't need to be perfectly matched to your character's personality, they can be completely random. Ideally, you would use these traits to add more to the character and tell more of a story. Like how being a short, lean-built guy might make being a soldier more challenging than for a larger stronger man, and it creates interest in how he overcomes that conflict. 

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2020, 03:36:47 AM »
That's a good idea for adding complexity and interesting points to a story by going against stereotypes. You can do that virtually everywhere. It sort of automatically adds more realism because you have to justify the change.
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Offline Coryn

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2020, 10:44:44 PM »
I guess it depends to what degree of fineness that you want to visualize your character. Personally even for long running characters I've had I can't just close my eyes and see their face. I can only see them in dream vision. You get the impression and the general features down, but I never see the fine things.

Mostly it's just a collection of traits. Blue jeans, rain jacket, cheek scar, short hair, green eyes, etc. It's stuff like that. Make a list of what is there, and even if in you're head they're only just in the correct relative positions, it's more than enough to get the job done.

But even as a writer, don't forget the value of a good ol' notebook doodle. I spent a solid semester of macroeconomics in college just doodling eye shapes for different characters in my margins. It was just abcent minded sketching, but it did let me reframe how I was "looking" at them. So now even if it's just an eye I see in the frame, I can tell you how that eye is going to look, and that's a lot more than I had before.

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Offline Casi

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2020, 08:21:00 PM »
I just started and I am also having trouble visualizing just about everything how the characters look and what type of world it will be  I feel like i shouldn't get ahead of myself maby focus on the story first then the rest should just become clearer.

Offline Coryn

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2020, 07:12:32 PM »
If you're having trouble visualizing, there is no harm on falling on genericss to begin with. It is fine to have "a knight with red hair" or "a homeless man with a beard". Short hands like these can be incredibly useful when it comes to starting character design.

That being said, if a character really isn't coming to you, it's possible that character just isn't meant to be. Good characters spring to life in your mind, even if it's only their personality. If you don't have that character living within you already, don't force them into existence. If you think a new character is needed, try instead to rework the story so an existing character can handle it. Always explore your options to move forward instead of ending up at a standstill.

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Offline KeanFox

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #9 on: November 20, 2020, 07:41:37 AM »
Good point Kesashi, I like that

The world is your oyster. Your world, your lore your rules. Supposed to be the fun part.
Sometimes I feel we get hung up on "Am I doing this right" Have fun with it hopefully they will have fun reading it.

Me as an "artist" when I close my eyes I see images, shapes, colors.
When I put them down on paper, I add and take stuff, try things, experiment, etc
(Feels pretentious calling myself an artist, I just mean we here artist people that draw and writers people that writes.)

For example, I have a detective character, It's pretty straightforward (Or straight backward if that's what you into, not gonna judge), I can see it clearly in my head. I don't know how to explain it. I mean right now literally spacing out staring at the wall, my head flooded with images for his look. then looks and story bleed into each other. But when I start thinking, Am I doing it right, What they going to think. That when I get discouraged.

Let's do a little exercise, shall we? I post a character, tell me what archetype. No one has to participate

I'll go first

What is this archetype?
Spoiler

It's a goat!! A goddamn goat!

Spoiler

Seriously tho, what's Flowey archetype? Hows that play into his visualization/story?

Offline NO1SY

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Re: Visualising Characters
« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2020, 12:28:27 PM »
I'm not gonna lie, I think I may find this to be the most difficult part about writing for me... I find even coming up with characters to be a challenge - in some stories drafts I've just written an "X" for a character and all of their defining visual features, because I didn't know what to do with them... this is actually very bad for writing, as the majority of storytelling is character interaction (even with a single character) and how they look or how they perceive others should have A LOT of impact on character decision making, motivations, actions etc.

I will say that considering I'm more into novel writing now as opposed to comic writing, I don't think I have to be as exact and decisive with character visual design anymore, but it's a good skill to have.

I like the advice that has been given on character archetypes.

Let's take your character Murakami. The majority of characters in popular stories with military backgrounds such as theirs share a fairly distinctive image. Square-jawed, solid man with a buzz-cut hairstyle and maybe some stubble. Likely approaching his middle ages, if not older - so maybe getting peppering in his sideburns, and his skin may be getting rougher with some deeper set lines. Probably prefers function over form so dresses in simple t-shirts; non-restrictive trousers with pockets; and shoes/boots meant for walking. Maybe wears dog-tags. Probably wears a scowl on his face most of the time, and his eyes have a haunted quality to them. Oh, and he probably has a scar or two...

Archetypes like this play off reader expectations really well. This means that when someone reads a discription similar to this/that has parts of this, or see a character designed like this, they can make assumptions about the character and their personality right off the bat. This is good for two reasons 1) you don't have to put as much effort into trying to show their past and experience through dialogue - which often comes across as unnatural self-exposition or takes ages to properly establish - and 2) it makes it easier to subvert expectations with the character without having to contrive super complex plans. This second point is really good when you use the archetype as a base to then build out from or change in a few small ways, to give your character some quirks that seem unique. For example, most readers expect these military types to love animals, especially dogs, but what if Murakami really hates animals, and they really hate him? Perhaps, despite his quite utilitarian view on clothing and appearance, he really likes to indulge in fine dining. Maybe he's now dedicated to covering himself completely in tatoos based on the scars that he has?

Alternatively you can do everything you can to completely skirt around the archetype for great effect also - such as with Kesashi's example of the Hulking barbarian with the battle axe vs the tiny girl with the battleaxe. Bear in mind that this often requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief on behalf of the readers, and therefore you must do the work to set the tone and expectations of the story to properly contextualise the character, so as not to pull the reader out of the experience. Luckily, just the fact that its in a manga helps a lot to set quite accepting expectations based on ingrained preconceptions.

The personality, backstory and archetypal appearance add the first and second dimensions to characters, then the little quirks and subversions, which must tie in to the other things mind you, add the third dimension.

Sometimes though, it is good to bear in mind that people don't innately look like their personalities, although they do shape their appearance to fall more in line with their interests and desired self image. That said, I think, in manga etc, it's quite important to be able to tell main characters apart. Often this is taken a bit over the top.. with crazy hair styles or outlandish clothing, or... top-heavy... body proportions... but one or two specifically defining features - a streak in the hair, a stray lock of hair, a mole or birthmark on the face, prominent eyebrows, an unusual pupil, an earring, a unique piece of clothing like a hat, a scalf or jacket, a unique weapon, a unique accessory like headphones or a rubix cube etc - can go a long way to telling characters apart, and also be used as another visual thing to tell the reader something about a character.

If you make a design choice for a character, especially if it is an aesthetic choice made by the character and not an innate feature, then try to make sure it tells part of their story.
« Last Edit: November 23, 2020, 12:31:27 PM by NO1SY »