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Virtual Barbies and Paper Dolls

Monday, October 9, 2006

In case you’re new to my blog or haven’t heard me teach or talk about it before, I am a visually oriented person. What this means is that in addition to doing my strongest learning by reading or seeing something in action, as a writer, I am constantly on the lookout for images that inspire my writing.

My stories are always character driven, and those characters come to me in a variety of ways, most especially through the “what if” process—what if I ran into a member of one of the popular boy-bands of the eighties. I would never recognize him because I did not listen to that kind of music nor did we have cable/MTV. Thus begins the premise of a novel involving a former boy-band member and an opera diva. Another major source of characters for me is from secondary characters in movies and/or TV shows that intrigue me (which I’ve written about in recent posts).

No matter where my characters come from, they all have something in common—I have to “cast” them before I can start writing about them. In fact, this is what I did my teaching session on for grad school: using Real World Templates to help build characters. I use mostly actors/actresses as they are easiest to find images of (or to harvest screen captures of from DVDs). Because I am drawn to secondary characters, I tend to use templates who are not extremely well known nor would they be easily recognizable through the physical descriptions I give of them in my writing.

In addition to my two main characters in the Ransome trilogy, the templates for several other major secondary characters come from movies set during the time period I’m writing, which has been wonderful when it comes to describing their clothing in addition to their physical appearance. The DVD player on my computer allows me to do screen captures, so I am able to capture a multitude of facial expressions and body language of my templates to use in building how my characters move and emote. I also get ideas for scenes from screen captures that show the template in certain situations. I would never plagiarize a scene from someone else’s work, but I sure do get inspiration from them!

With the proliferation of movie versions of Jane Austen’s novels, the Horatio Hornblower series, and the movie Master and Commander, I have been able to pull a plethora of images that help inspire me in my writing. Because of the research I have done independently from these, I know when something is a little off in the film (such as Darcy not wearing gloves at the Netherfield Ball in the newest version of P&P or the fact that Col. Fitzwilliam is wearing a naval uniform instead of an army uniform in the same movie). But they give me important insights into the backdrops of formal balls, dinners, life aboard ship, interaction between sailors and their superiors, or Georgian wedding ceremonies I would not get from any other research materials I have.

I can then also take the images of my templates—who have only been in one film together but did not play opposite each other—and use a photo publisher program on my computer to Frankenstein-together pictures of my characters in scenes from MY story.

I realized something rather profound (to me anyway) last night, when instead of writing, I started putting together in PowerPoint a chapter-by-chapter “storyboard” of each character who appears—or at least who is named and has a speaking part. Growing up, I played with Barbie dolls until my early teens. Then, when I put those aside and started writing down those made up stories instead, I collected pictures of my characters out of magazines, very much like paper dolls. I did not play with them so much as cut them out and put them on backdrops, but they served the same purpose as the Barbies—the visual expression of what was going on inside my head. Now, thanks to one-touch scanners, Google Image search, and DVD screen capture ability, I have Virtual Barbies and Paper Dolls to use as the visual expression and inspiration of my story.

And you know, they’re more fun now than they were twenty years ago!

  1. Anonymous permalink
    Tuesday, October 10, 2006 2:23 pm

    What a terrific idea. And what a great excuse to watch my favorite movies over and over again. I never thought about storyboarding from screen captures before. Clever!


  2. GeorgianaD permalink
    Tuesday, October 10, 2006 10:14 pm

    Doesn’t it just drive you crazy to see the errors in the movies? It would me. Good thing I don’t know anything about history, LOL. But I think the point is still valid for any research that needs to be done in our stories. One factual error can derail a reader–fast. You must spend HOURS doing research! Did you minor in History?


  3. Kaye Dacus permalink
    Tuesday, October 10, 2006 10:48 pm

    Georgiana —

    Yes, I did minor in history–but in the American Civil War, not Georgian England. But, I did my undergrad senior literary critical thesis on Jane Austen, so I had a good foundation–that plus the fact she’s my favorite author so I was already somewhat immersed in that time period.

    I’ll actually be guest blogging on Favorite PASTimes about this next week!



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