Character Development Idea of the Week: Avatars

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me . . . kind of (WISH I looked that sharp!)

I was born in the early eighties. This makes me not yet old enough to claim that I’m old but not so young that I don’t remember MS-DOS and green screen computers and Atari and other outmoded technologies. 

It also makes me old enough that I don’t yet automatically think of a technological solution when I need to solve something. 

For example, a year ago I complained to my husband that I didn’t know of anyone to teach me how to crochet. He rolled his eyes and told me to try YouTube. 

This weekend, I decided that I needed to sketch my characters.

I have so much trouble picturing them in my head that I thought, “I don’t care that I can’t draw. I just need to sketch them well enough to solidify their features.”

Well, it turns out that not being able to draw (despite the few art classes I took in college) hinders the solidifying of features. One of the characters looked like a five-year-old who needs to pee. I would show them to you, but I’ve already burned them. 

And this time I’m proud of myself for thinking of the technological alternative all on my own: cartoon generators. 

Okay, I guess people call these cartoons “avatars” now-a-days, but as I mentioned, I’m still a little behind the times. To me, you’re just creating a cartoon. 

Anyhow, what a fantastic character exercise it turned out to be! To have a set of possible eyes or noses in front of you and to choose the one that best fits your character? What a great way to get to know them! 

Each of these portraits below is at least a second attempt, if not a third or a fourth, so it’s not like I got them right on the first try (some not even close). This was hard work. But I learned so much as I went along, like that Peter has auburn hair, light green eyes, and freckles, and that Drew’s hair is blondish, super thick, and sticks up on its own. When you literally put the pieces together, it definitely solidifies the whole. 

Some of you have read my manuscript, so I’m curious what you think. Can you guess who’s who? 

They still aren’t perfect, but they’re close. From left to right, we’ve got Wendy, Peter, Topher, Drew, Phil, Zander, and Caprice. 

[Update 7/7/10: Tweaked Drew, Phil and Zander (better mouths, different eyes for Phil and Zander, lighter hair for Zander) and changed Caprice’s portrait. Loving the gypsy look for her and the darker blond. And, because I can’t help myself, I’ve added a few of the supporting cast: Gina, Elu, Brianna, and Abuelita.]

I’m especially pleased with Wendy, Peter, and Drew. I like that Wendy has those open, innocent eyes but still looks like she’s up for adventure (my first try lacked the second feature), that Peter looks cool in an indie way but still nice (not full of himself the way one of the portraits turned out) and has his cowlick and slight smirk, and that Drew looks like a great buddy: friendly, caring, and not too dorky. 

The others get the basics right, like Topher’s mopey look (and I love the contrast of his personality with the happy bunny shirt, which I think he would wear if it were some kind of emo band shirt); Phil’s hair, glasses, and hoodie; Zander’s face shape and “classic good looks”; and Caprice’s pinned-up tendrils of hair. 

I might keep tweaking them, though, until I’m going, “Holy crow! That’s him!” the way I did when Peter finally turned out right. (Don’t be surprised if the photos change. [Update 7/7/10: And look! They did. That’s the trouble with being a perfectionist. But now I’m very happy with all the portraits.]) 

My current draft, which I’m calling 4b, is all about voice. I’m going through the manuscript one character at a time fixing the voice where it’s not right. And I think having these avatars in front of me will definitely help! 

Next step, I plan to pick out a theme song for each character. Hubby-the-music-guru has volunteered to assist. 

What do you think? Discovered any great technological tricks lately? Know of other helpful uses for cartoon generators? And if you’re a writer, what sort of character exercises work for you? 

Leave a comment!

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12 responses »

  1. What a cool idea! My favorite is Topher. That is almost exactly how I pictured him. I was going, “Holy crow! It’s him!”

    I’m going to have to work on pics of my characters, too. 🙂

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    • Woohoo! That is awesome! I think he’s been the clearest for me from the start, so that probably showed up in the writing. With the others, I’m going to have to add more physical descriptions.

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  2. What a great idea, Nikki! I did sometihng similar the other day by making a collage of the actors I saw as Remie, Enzo, Clarie and Dante. Still, the actors aren’t exactly right, just the ones that are closest and that I like as actors and would tolerate in a movie version of the story. So… I am going to copy you!

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    • It’s been so great. I love seeing them and having that reference as I write descriptions in the novel. Plus, it’s amazing how much personality the pictures show! I feel like all of the sudden my characters are MUCH more real to me, so now I can go back and make them more real on the page.

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    • It’s tough to tell because of the thumbnail pictures, but this is actually the older version. She has wrinkles, smaller eyes, and gray streaks. She’s actually only in her forties, though, so I made the wrinkles very light.

      And yeah, Caprice gives me lots of trouble. To be honest, I had no idea what she looked like as I wrote, so I’m going to have to fix that.

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