Because I am writing a movie screenplay, I can't help but think of it as though it was a movie playing out in my mind. This means a fairly clear image of the characters should be in my head.
Unfortunately, finding the right words to describe the characters so that, when others read it, they see them in their head the same way, is not a skill I particularly excel at. I can certainly write their behaviour very clearly, as the story plays out, and I do write a simple physical description upon their introduction, with additions as and when new plot situations require it. But they aren't really very vivid.
For example, one of the main characters in Pegasus Rampant is Wren, who I describe thus:
- A young woman, dressed in light leather armour. Lean and strong, her hair is dirty and cut short, though under the rough appearance she is boyishly attractive.
Well, that's broad enough to give an idea of who she is, but I don't specify too many details. Casting would already be limited enough to find an actor who fits the absolute requirements, no need to specify the negotiable ones.
Is that enough of a description for you to imagine what she might look like? When I go on to describe her as a Mercenary, in this Mediaeval era film, does that add to the image?
I am a visual person, an artist, and when I think of characters I like to firm them in my mind with a sketch. But my drawing skills are rudimentary, and lately under-practised, so my attempts to sketch an image of Wren have not been very successful so far.
I am consistently disappointed by the way most Fantasy artists portray female warriors. They always have them in impractical clothing, sometimes only bikinis, with exposed flesh everywhere! No armour to speak of, no sense that they're trying to protect against a weapon. That's just absurd!
I don't mind a little bit of exposed skin, but that should be for showing off muscle tone and scars, and maybe a tribal tattoo. They shouldn't be looking like beauty contest finalists parading on a catwalk!
So when I draw my warriors, I try to give them more realistic layers of armour, chainmail, leather jerkins, bracers, boots, etc. They have to be something you can walk around in, be flexible enough to fight in, be comfortable in all weather conditions, and protect you against weapons. Not expose you to the cold, be too heavy to stand up in, or let you be vulnerable to blades!
The other day I was in a Video Rental store, wandering around, and I saw a cover of a DVD that I really liked. The movie isn't anything to write home about, though. I looked at the image of the kick-boxing woman and thought "that's a great image with the perfect pose and build for Wren. If only she wasn't wearing those modern clothes..."
I looked up the image when I got home, and thought about drawing over the top of her to give her a Wren-like look, but soon realised I could do better than that - I could source each individual element of her clothing and distort and recolour them to fit the figure, creating a more photorealistic kind of conceptual art.
After a few hours work (I was up until 2am tweaking it) I came away from it pleased with the result. It's not perfect, but for a quick collage of disparate elements it's pretty good, and a close representation of the character's appearance.
The adjustments I would make, looking at it now, are things like perhaps a slightly prettier face, and a happier expression (I was trapped by the fact that the original image was of someone recently beaten up in a kickboxing fight) and a few more period-ish items of clothing, such as lacings for the jerkin, or some studs on the chain-mail. But that's just being picky.
I am often surprised with what I'm capable of doing when I put my mind to it. Things that seem daunting or unlikely to work often turn out a lot better than I had realistically initially hoped, and this is one of them.