See Your Characters

Before I jump into this week's subject, I want to thank everyone for the feedback on last week's topic regarding naming my new book. The voting results and associated rationale were quite unanimous. Mirrors & Mist is officially the title of Book II of The Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy. As far a progress report, I'm still editing the first draft of Mirrors & Mist, currently on chapter 13 of 18, with the novel currently at around 68,000 words.

This week, I'm going to talk about a way to bring your characters to life. As I've mentioned before, I'm a visual writer: I imagine scenes and characters in my head, playing out like a movie before I describe them with the written word. One problem with this is that my memory is not infallible, and sometimes characters have a tendency to mutate or evolve. Or I just plain forget how I described them six chapters ago.

Like many writers, I use a spreadsheet to record details on my characters--what they look like, what they wear, etc. However, I've taken that a step further by using this free online program called Ultimate Flash Face, which lets your create portrait sketches with a few button clicks. Not only is it fun to play with, but I'm using Ultimate Flash Face to take a 'snapshot' of my character's faces, to give me something to look at when I'm writing about their facial features.

Ultimate Flash Face is similar to a computer game character generator, where you choose a head, chin, mouth, eyes, nose, hairstyle, eyebrows, facial hair, and glasses from their catalog of options.  The program has a scaling function that lets you size each of these individual features and adjust their opacity to make an original portrait.

Here's an example of some of my characters: in order, Jetsam (a 13-year-old orphan boy), Yduk Thiern (a bounty hunter), Giselle (a young friend of Jetsam's), and Seryn Vardan (a fugitive mage):
Ultimate Flash Face lets you save (if you register) your creations. You can also print them to pdf (with no registration required). To take this a step further, I printed my character portraits to pdf, then saved the pdfs as image files (jpgs). You'll need a pdf editor to do this, or can use a free online converter if you don't have a pdf editor. Once I had the jpg images, I edited the portraits using Photo Pos Pro (free digital photo and image editing software). Whether or not I made them better or worse is open to interpretation, but for my purposes, I made them all a little more like the characters I envisioned. Here are the modified Ultimate Flash Face portraits (of the same characters):

You could go further by coloring the portraits to capture skin, hair, and eye color, but for now, I'm still using the spreadsheet for that. I did something similar to this by 'pinning' pictures that reminded me of my characters on Pinterest, but Ultimate Flash Face gives you even more flexibility in capturing the character as you see them.

Now I just need to find a program that let's me make portraits of dogs and dragons!  If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.  Have a great week and weekend!

CM Skiera