Grr(aphic) Mondays: Silhouettes and Shadows, what makes a character?

I bet you that at least once in your life you have made a character. Characters make stories, whether it’s a weather man in the devil’s sex dungeon or the fourteen nippled monster who works as a tax accountant in Essex, every character has a story. But what makes a character really work? How does a creator, like…I don’t know…Neil Gaiman, create a main character that is both fresh and relatable, like Morpheus from Sandman. Well the short answer is he doesn’t. Consider Morpheus.

To Tweak or Not to Tweak


A character, especially a protagonist or an antagonist, needs to feel real and three dimensional. Most writers achieve this through putting themselves into the character, Morpheus is a warped version of Neil Gaiman. The art to this is tweaking the character, for example if I was to write about a weather man in the devil’s sex dungeon based on myself then I would have to tweak the character to fit with the story. It sounds simple but make changes to a character’s personality and figuring out what is right for the situation can be very hard.
Another way to form characters is to tweak stereotypes, take Death from Sandman, normally the grim reaper is depicted as a figure in a hooded robe with a long scythe. In the graphic novel, Gaiman tweaks the normal Death stereotype, creating a character who fulfils the same basic function but who is also an early twenty-year-old woman. ‘Tweaking’ is the word I use for this process because I like to imagine my characters in a vice and me with a screw driver tinkering with them, many writers prefer to call the process ‘reimagining’ or ‘redesigning’ themselves and stereotypes.

Profiling


Once you have gone through the process of tweaking and have a character concept it can be useful to flesh the character out by creating a character profile, these are some of the categories I like to cover when I am building a character:
Name:
Height:
What they would say if I asked them their weight:
Favourite place to eat:
Celebrity they are most attracted to:
Other characters they like:
Other characters they hate:
Most embarrassing memory:
It’s best to have some interesting aspects of the character in you toolbox ready to go as it can help fight off writers block when a story is grinding to a halt. A set of profiles will also help you keep track of characters and avoid continuity issues. You don’t what the fourteen nippled account’s squirrel sidekick to die on page thirty two then walk in with coffee on page five thousand and ninety.

Silhouettes and Simpsons


After you have created a fully tweaked and profiled character it’s time to give them a look. Matt Groening, of Simpsons and Futurama fame, has claimed many times that the secret to creating a good character is a distinctive silhouette. If I forced you right now I’m pretty sure you could drawn me an outline of Bender and Bart well enough for another person to guess who they are. This applies to graphic novels too, it’s very easy to work identify Morpheus from his gaunt features and wild hair. Even if you are working in a written medium it’s worth a thought, J.K Rowling makes constant references to Hermione’s bushy hair and Harry’s scar which make them instantly identifiable. Take my accountant from Essex, I’m sure if you met him it would be easy to identify him from his fourteen nipples.
Like I said in the beginning, characters make stories, and the great thing about stories is that life is full of them. Creating a character is one of the most interesting and fun parts of the creative process and can be approached in a myriad of ways. Today I have scratched the surface but please keep checking back here at BearSleuth as I will continue to explore and explain this process in the coming weeks.

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