Creating compelling characters is one of the most important parts of writing fiction. We writers do that on paper, be it physical or digital. While this is a good and necessary step on the road to a finished novel, it also lacks tangibility. It's not real. It's just a bunch of words on a page that, while you can picture it in your mind's eye, you cannot physically stare at your character and ponder the scar on her hand, why her hair is short or why she's such a bitch.
As I wrote the first draft of my latest novel I tried something I'd never done before. It resulted from "writer's procrastination", that nasty little thing that goes on when a writer, for whatever reason, is unwilling to sit down and do their job like any normal person. My own writer's procrastination takes many forms but this time it served a valuable purpose.
Using Poser I took my character outline sheets and used them to turn the idea I had on paper into something tangible, something I could look at. I spent a considerable amount of time creating Poser renditions of each character in my book. I started with my main characters since I knew them best and worked my way through to each lesser character until I had a wall filled with images of every character in my story.
While I told myself it was useful after I completed the first few images, I still had this thought nagging me in the back of my mind.
"You're wasting time. Stop it. Just write already, would you?"
Since I was deep in procrastination mode, I did my utmost to ignore that voice, but it persisted pretty much through the entire process of creating this series of images. It's not that I didn't write at all. I did. But I spent a lot of time procrastinating on these character profile images before writing each day, too.
Then came the day where I had to write a scene, a scene I added after I realized my plot missed an important beat. That beat contained two of my minor characters interacting as they discovered the dead body of their friend. That's it. Simple. Except I had no idea how to write the scene.
I knew very little about these two people, as they were quite minor characters. I hadn't even written descriptions of them in the boot yet but I had created their character profiles and their profile images in Poser.
They hung there, stapled to my writing wall, staring at me along with every other character in my book.
While my character outlines delve quite deep into who each person is and what motivates them on both a surface and subtext level, that intellectual knowledge is vastly different from staring at a face or looking at a person to see how they dress, how they hold themselves and express who they are physically.
What I discovered was all that time I spent procrastinating paid off. It paid off big time.
You see, I had this scene I to write but I had no idea what to write. No idea at all, so I did what I always do in this situation. I started my writing timer and got down to it.
Here's what I started with.
"I have no idea what to write. I don't know where this scene takes place. All I know is there's a dead body on the ground."
Pretty inspiring stuff, right? I stared at those words then started at the images of the two characters who had to be in this scene. I looked at the expressions on their faces. I looked at their hair, their eyes, the clothing they wore and how they held themselves physically as a representation of their own unique personalities.
Then something strange happened.
I started to write. And I kept writing. When my writing timer went off I actually jumped in my chair because I was so engrossed in writing the scene I forgot I had set the timer.
Those character profile images saved me that day. I knew precisely who these people were, what they looked like and how they held themselves. I knew their personalities intimately and was able to translate all that onto the page simply and easily. It was magical. You know, the way writing is supposed to be.
The image below shows one of these character reference images, complete with a short description of who she is, what motivates her and her ultimate goal. If you find yourself struggling with writer's procrastination you may want to grab Poser and create a set of character reference images along with a few lines about who each character is and what they want. It just might save you on one of those days where you have to write but don't know how to get started.