First things first, main characters.
Character building in story, like in life, is very important. Stories are nothing without their characters. Just like people are nothing without good character. Well, they technically aren't nothing they just suck and make great inspo for bad guys.
Main characters are who we, as the audience and readers, relate to in the story. We hold on to this character as the story progresses and we are introduced to a whole new world (you sang that to the tune of the song in Aladdin, admit it! I did it too! It's okay! Safe space.) through them and their perspective on it. We feel for the main character in a story. We feel their pain and suffering as they go through each challenge and set of troubles as if we were right there with them, as if it was happening to us and not on the pages in front of us and we miss them when the story is over, like we do a good friend.
When creating a main character it's important to really flush them out and make them a living breathing person that people can really grab on to, within the story that is. ;)
To flush out a character and make them 3D, so to speak, it's a necessary part of the process to imagine/write/sketch as much as we possibly can about our main character. We put them in every good, bad, boring and mundane situation we can think of. We write about them eating pizza alone on a Friday night, as well as fighting bad guys on Tuesday or hanging with the girls on Wednesday. We visualize how they react to boredom, how they respond to getting in a fender bender, what situations they prefer to be in at all. Fast paced car chases or doodling alone in their room or neither?
We draw them with their families, their friends, any side kicks they have and pets they may keep. We give them jobs, street addresses. We figure out which shirt in their closet is their favourite shirt. We dream up all kinds of details, what if's and crazy scenarios and silly seemingly random stuff about them that no one really cares about all in an effort to make them a real person. To prepare them. Prepare them to be read about and prepare them for their own personal hell. Mwhahahahaaaa! Ahem...sorry minor evil super villain moment there. Won't happen again or will it!? Also, we will tackle bad guys too but for now -- main characters.
We prepare our main character and we prepare them to go through pain, heartache, struggle and turmoil. Why? Because struggle, pain and heartache builds, what? That's right (hold for dramatic pause) character and a solid main character helps us build the whole world of our story, as well as, the story itself.
Main Character Flushed Out?
Once we have a main character the story or plot is built through them. We build it through their desires, their wants and needs and the struggle and transformation they need to go through to obtain those wants/needs/desires.
The character needs to transform to get what he or she wants. That's the story. That's the plot. That's what we as humans relate to in each and every story we read or tell. We want something, a certain outcome and going through the struggle and hard time to get it and it all coming out different then we thought it would will either makes us harder and stronger or softer and more understanding or all of those things at once. Either way we are transformed.
Apply it to Character
In order to become transformed into who they need to be by the climax of the story to get whatever it is they desire, which can be anything from defeating the bad guy, to winning the mansel-in-distress, to saving the children from the evil dragon or any other heroic-ey type stuff we can think of, our main character has to go through some pain, some challenges, some struggle and then transform.
Once we have a solid main character and we know what they want the story is revealed to us. The story writes itself. Well, not really. We gotta do that and sometimes that's the hard part. But, I'm going on another tangent so I digress.
This is why we start with character. It leads us to everything else. We build everything about the story through them so creating a good main character is paramount.
El Carver is the City of Sirens comic series' main character. I created her out of a desire to see more narratives about strong females who have been through some serious stuff and are not virginal, naive beauties who met a guy with super powers who transforms their world. I might have came up with this concept around the Twilight era.
I wanted El to be her own force. I wanted her to be capable on her own, no dude required. She wants them around, sure, but doesn't need them to exist in her world. So, I thought about how she would get that way. How does a young woman get that tough? She has a strong ass mother that's how and she's been through some serious crap. I thought about El's relationship to her mom and gave her some past struggles regarding her mother. What would drive a wedge between a strong mother who raised a strong daughter? A first love, betrayal, a big ass family secret, a dark legacy unknown to anyone but them? All of the above. Yes, please! From those questions and imaginings about my main character came the story of the City of Sirens. I would go on in more detail but I don't want to give too much away here.
So I made El a young female of 25 years old. She been through some crap, estranged from her strong mother and away from home, the City of Sirens for over five years. Struggles covered.
For appearance I made her about five foot ten, blonde and beautiful enough to be not taken seriously as a powerful person, with a bit of an edge to her. I wanted her to look like she could kick a grown man's ass but also like she was more likely to seduce him. Even though she wouldn't do that 'cause that's the kind of charcter she is and has.
Another side note: One thing I dislike about female heroes especially in tv and movies is they tend not to look like they can kick the ass of a grown 260 lbs. man and yet they do. They often look like if they did try to take out a grown ass man their delicate little ankles and their 90lbs. frame would snap like a twig.
I wanted El to look like a female fighter with some softness. I want her to be more Huntress than Batgirl, more Batman than Superman, more Black canary than Supergirl. Keepin' it all in the DC universe.
She's been through some crap but she comes from a very wealthy, privileged background so at one time she was a girl who only cared about fashion and a table at the latest hot spot. I made her wealthy because it ties into her mother and step-father's families, as well as the legacy of sirens and both of those are woven into the city's history. See how character can also = setting. Pow!
I wanted El to be relatable too. So, I had her fall from grace. I took away her her life of privilege and wealth and I put her in a crappy apartment waiting tables, living hand to mouth.
Once I had written a boat load of characters sketches and dreamed up every possible scenario to put El in I felt like she demanded to be created visually. So, I gathered up some references and inspiration.
My inspiration for El when doing research and searching for references was a Serena Van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl type and other blonde beauties such as Amber Heard, Gisele Bundchen, Marilyn Monroe. Other strong female characters in movies and tv shows, such as Max from dark angel, Buffy, Wonder Woman, Thea Queen, Black Widow and Kara Danvers aka Super Girl were also great inspiration. In terms of comics and graphic novels I wanted to follow along the lines of the strong women found in Frank Miller's Sin City and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Catwoman:When in Rome.
After I felt I had a great many resources for my character I created myself the reference sheet below and began to draw.
Once I got some good reference material I did up a few rough sketches.
Once I had a few roughs and a more solid idea of where I wanted to go with El, I refined the concept a bit more, bringing it in the computer and into photoshop. Then, I turned my pencil sketch into a black and white line art piece and added in some colour.
Throughout the process, I tweaked and fiddled and faddled with colouring to get the right mood and lighting. This finished sketch turned out just how I wanted it to (which is rare btw). In fact I liked it so much it became part of the overall branding for the City of Sirens series.
The heroine in her defiant glory arms crossed standing in front of her city lit by a street lamp from above. How better to represent the story in one image than with El looking pretty pissed to be back in the City of Sirens.
I also really like, and this was a happy accident, how the picture responded when closely cropped. El's face can either appear angry and determined or quiet and contemplative. I love the duality. It is exactly what I was going for. Hard and soft, dark and light in the same character.
I have used this image for mastheads and profile pics and all sorts of promo material and this initial character sketch I feel really sets the tone for the comics.
How do start or craft a story? Do you start with character? How do you build your characters? What are you favourite methods? Comment below and share your process.