Character profiling is the topic for SpudCast episode #5. I use the event of the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to illustrate how the books— actually, JK Rowling’s approach— to building a family history for all the characters in her books inspired me to to do the same. I don’t have a transcript but I do have my notes which I made prior to recording:
One night, I was working on creating a fox character and really liked what I came up with. In fact, he is currently on my desktop wallpaper.
I immediately decided to use him in my book. I didn’t have a name and I didn’t even have a personality to go with him. That will all come together later.
This was my typical character development in the past.
I would invent a character and just stick him or her somewhere in the plot. Typically, this new character would end up being a new friend for Spud.
Over time, as I drew comics with that character, it would develop its own personality.
I admit that’s a pretty sloppy way of creating cartoons. I always knew you had to also create personality traits— or better, think up the personality first then draw— but I was too eager to draw out a new comic strip to care.
Besides, I was drawing comics for only myself and my friends. This was during high school.
Until years later, I read an interview with J.K. Rowling.
While she was planning out her Harry Potter masterpiece, Rowling actually created entire family histories of all her characters.
I tried this format for my book earlier this year and lo and behold, I found that it really helped to create vivid, believable characters— but most of all— characters whom the reader can relate to.
I went back to my character design books and did some research on Google and found a few character design resources listing questions you should ask yourself such as “what is your character afraid of?”, “what makes him happy”, “what does she strive to be”, etc.
I put those questions— and a few of my own— in a spreadsheet and filled in the blanks for each character.
Some characters were easy while others required concentrated thinking because they were never created with any personality traits in mind.
For example, I didn’t draw Boombox from “I need to create a dog with a bad attitude. He smokes a lot and doesn’t care what others think of him. Oh, and he also wears boxershorts all the time and is afraid of commitment. What would cartoon like that look like?”.
What happened years ago was I drew a crusty-looking dog and thought, “hm, he looks like he has a bad attitude, smokes cigars all the time and doesn’t care what others think of him”. Actually, that was easy.
An example of a difficult cartoon for me to think up personalities after drawing them, were the members of the Sodium Bicarbonates. They are a musical group of 4 cats.
When I drew them, I imagined them without any distinct personalities. In fact, I had originally named them Cat 1, Cat 2, Cat 3, Cat 4!
The idea was cute but it didn’t provide any potential stories. I’m always up for a challenge, but I am also a stickler about quality storytelling.
I began questioning things like how would the cats interact with each other? How does Spud come to know them?
Why does Boombox have a bad attitude? He seems fearless but he has to have some sort of weakness!
Unfortunately, I’ve also had a hard time coming up with answers for Spud, my main character!
He was too much of a straight man, too normal, too intelligent.
While I decided to cast Willomina as a his psychotic ex-girlfriend who is a boy crazy diva desperate enough to set her house on fire in order to meet firemen, Boombox had his issues to deal with and so did each of the Sodium Bicarbonates and other characters, including the fox I mentioned earlier in the show, but Spud was a tough one to add a weakness.
I didn’t want to be cruel to him. Characters you can relate to all have a weakness or some sort of quest.
I also didn’t want to do what everyone else had already done. It’s hard not to incorporate any clichés!
Until one day, I was mountain biking (terrific full-body workout by the way) and I had a brainstorm.
I was mountain biking with a friend of mine and when he started, he said, “you could meet women this way. ‘Oh, are you hurt? Let me help you’”.
I did chuckle at this and started pretending to be a bad actor. “Oh. I am. Hurt. I have fallen. Oh he’p me! He’p me please!”
A while later, I see a few women in front of me and I’m remembering this conversation.
Suddenly, I’m picturing a scenario where everything goes wrong—I slam into a low branch, fall off unceremoniously, land on my butt. The women don’t notice but only after a bird plops on my head.
It would make a great comic! And I thought up more scenarios. I’m working all these into my book, by the way.
Later on as me and my friend took a break, it dawned on me that that is the type of thing that would happen to Spud. Sure he’s normal and well adjusted, but… what if he’s also full of these inopportune moment type of things? Bad luck, so to speak. The more he tries to fix or improve the situation, the worst it gets.
Ok, that’s probably been done countless of times before but now he’s got a personality at least most of us can relate to! And that personality will help me build and carry an interesting plot.
Imagine Spud on a first date with a hot girl who he really, really, really wants to go great and… Boombox shows up. Or Willomina who hasn’t quite gotten over their breakup yet. Or both. Already, I can think up a few plotlines for that and they are all my characters!
[tags]character design, Harry Potter, Spud, Boombox, Willomina, Sodium Bicarbonates, SpudCast [/tags]