Well, I am a bit weird, some say a lot. Developing a character for me is a process which can go on for a while and I thought I’d share. As an example, I’ll be using the heroine of my new series, Fox Meridian, partially because it’s publicity, and partially because she’s had a more complex development than some.
Okay, so generally I have a concept first. The concept comes from something I’ve watched on television, something I’ve read, and quite frequently from some random thought passing through my brain. This has been stewing in my head for several hours, usually more like a day or two. If an idea can’t hold onto my attention for a day, how is it going to hold yours. If I wake up and the concept’s gone, it doesn’t get written down. That’s if this is a primary character, of course. If they’re a secondary or an antagonist their concept will likely flow out of the plot for the story: I need our protagonist’s best friend, the leader of a militant terrorist group, whatever. Fox’s concept is “tough cop with a history, living in the near future.”
By now I’ve got a OneNote notebook set up for the project. I use a couple of tools for managing all the notes and such I keep on book projects. The main one for randomised notes is OneNote (which Microsoft made available for free), but I used to use Evernote with reasonable success. I prefer OneNote’s organisation. Recently I started putting some things into Trello, which is a sort of online project management tool: primarily lists, ideas for future stories, and To Dos go in there. About now I create a OneNote page and I write down my character’s name, maybe who their parents were, and a bit of description. The latter is going to be a rough outline of the character, where they came from, where they are now. I quite often end up changing the details in this as the demands on the character shift. (In Ugly this got changed because I got two characters a little twisted and confused their parents. Always read your notes, people!)
Usually, about now I’m off to my heaving great big graphics computer. I need to know who this person is and a picture is a thousand words, and that. So, I pull up DAZ Studio and start hunting through the pre-formed characters I’ve bought. What I’m looking for as the write shape and skin tone. I rarely use a pre-made model as is for any of my characters, never mind the main ones. Sadly I can’t use ZBrush worth a damn (or draw which would be even better) so I can’t uniquely sculpt a character, but I can sit there and tweak cheekbones, the corners of eyes, the wrinkles on brows. I can take the shape of one character and wrap them in the skin of another, change the eyes, select and colour the hair. Hair really changes the shape of a face and it says something about this person. When I think I have it right I do test renders: like many a WYSIWYG editor, Studio doesn’t quite show you what you get so it’s a good idea to look at the finished result.
This is one of the earliest renders of Fox. At this point she’s a Genesis 2 Female model. Case in point here about the importance of visuals to me: Fox was not Fox until I saw this. I can’t remember what I was calling her. Her name is actually Tara Meridian and maybe that’s all I had, but then I saw that hair and I thought “some kid at school said she had a fox on her head, she split the kid’s lip, but the name stuck, and now she likes it.” So, yes, that’s why she’s called Fox. To date no one has called her Foxy, and if they do we can expect another split lip. (I am going to be accused of making an obvious “attractive woman” reference with this one, but the hair is genuinely how she got the name, both fictionally and in reality.)
Probably while the first render is cooking, I’ll start designing the character. For me “designing the character” has a rather more specific meaning than for some, I think. Out come my PDFs and I start building the character in GURPS. GURPS, Generic Universal Role-Play System, is a pen-and-paper RPG produced by Steve Jackson Games. It’s point-based and designed to work reasonably well with any background. That means I can use it for fantasy and sci-fi characters, and it means I’m not stuck with “you’ve selected the Ranger class and must select one of these abilities at level 3.” No levels in GURPS, just point totals. I largely ignore the point totals, but they come in useful for some things such as education. For example, younger characters should have fewer skills than older ones or those who have had intensive training. A lot of stuff just doesn’t make sense to worry over it, however, so I don’t. I build my character, decide how strong they are, how intelligent, their build…
Oh the build. Backtrack a little here. I used to judge all this by eye, but now I have a tool for DAZ Studio called Measure Metrics. That gives me more measurements for my character model than I could ever want. With the model built and me happy with it, I’ll take down their measurements in OneNote. Yes, I know the cup size on all my female characters, US and UK sizes. I can also tell you their wrist circumference. Fox is a C. I assume you don’t care how big her wrists are.
Back to the character build where I’ll be deciding on how attractive they are, how wealthy, what kind of abilities and skills they have, what kind of faults and flaws. Why bother? Because, while I’ll tweak these stats where I need my character to do something I’d never thought of, or (more likely) I realise they must be able to do something I didn’t put in the build, this character description keeps me honest. Ceri never pulls magic out of a hat without working as long as she needs to do it. Aneka doesn’t survive a plasma blast in one book which should have punched through the armour described in the last (unless the armour has changed). No one buys something in a shop which their character would never be able to afford.
Now, while this is happening, the world is taking shape around the character. (I’ve begun with a world and built the characters from it and it’s never worked. My books have a character focus and the world should fit to them, not the other way around.) I’ll be bouncing around creating more OneNote notes which fill in the background around the character. So, Fox is a ranking officer in a police agency called NAPA: I need to create NAPA, give it form and a rank structure, and layout how their geographical structure works to fill in that one element of Fox’s sheet. She’s associated with a guy named Jackson Martins and his daughter, Teresa, who own a huge conglomerate called MarTech: so MarTech (and Jackson and Teresa later) get designed and described. I need to work out the world’s social status hierarchy so that I have an idea of how wealthy Fox needs to be to support the lifestyle I intend her to have. Building the character helps me to solidify the world they live in.
So, now I know what my character looks like and what they can do, and I have a good idea of their character, at least in broad strokes. The last part, who they are how they behave, how they think, that comes from writing them and I may have to go back to update the stats as I work along. I’ll do more concept pictures to decide on a look for a particular scene and it gives me a sense for the character’s style of dress, or maybe they don’t really smile broadly because their face pulls contortions if they do.
With Fox there was another stage because DAZ brought out the Genesis 3 Female model while I was writing Fox Hunt. Wanting to try out the new tech, I recreated Fox as a G3F and was then faced with whether I like the old model or the new. I eventually went with the new one, so her look changed a little. I actually took the old model and altered it some to create Fox’s mother, so that wasn’t wasted.
So this was actually produced to test out some new eyes, but it shows Fox’s new G3F face. The eyebrows have a less pronounced arch and I think the features are a tiny bit softer. I was never happy with the eyes until I found this pair of lovely blue-green peepers. Fox is set, at least until something in a book changes something about her and I need to create a new sheet for her. She’ll get updated over time, as she learns and develops. Characters grow over time and I have plans for Fox, some of which may never happen. It all depends on how her story develops. Can’t wait to find out what happens.
Patreon patrons can see some more images associated with the development of Fox, just posted on the site. Link on the right. There will be more public posts and concept art coming prior to the release of Fox Hunt on September 8th.
(PS. Took me longer to post this than expected. Hope it was worth the wait.)