Reflection – Character development sessions

In two or three consecutive sessions in 160MC we had the chance to create, develop and present fictional characters. It was made in groups and was quite an interesting task.

The character had to be based on a Cabinet of curiosities consisting of objects found in our own cabinets. Since most of the people in my group didn’t have our cabinets in the sessions, we decided to include object that we had in our bags then. We started off with the following objects, and thought what each of them might say about the character:

Character profile

Character profile

As we found out, most of the stuff fit well together and we could support that with a story, however, the character started to look too bizzare so we decided to keep just some of the ideas and to build upon them. We tried to stick to the basic guidelines our tutors gave us and to improve the character using the feedback given.

Some guiding points to help us with the character were:

– age
– gender
– ethnicity
– name
– location (s) through their life
– family
– likes
– dislikes
– relationships
– successes
– failures
– talents
– highs
– lows
– social background.

Feedback and ideas about developing and presenting characters (based on two sessions of group presentations, feedback from other students and from our tutors):

  • Some groups had concentrated too much on the character itself, without mentioning any other person in their life. So the tutors would then ask: ‘So does he/she have any friends?’
  • It was also important that we can show a picture of the character, so that the audience can link the words with an image.
  • A good idea was to have a visual timeline of the character’s life, with important moments marked and / or illustrated.
  • For some characters, it was also a good idea that one person of the group can dress up as them.
  • A significant event in their lives could divide their lives in two, thus creating interest, a chance for change in the character, as well as making them more complex/layered and/or create conflict.
  • It is important that we give more information about life-changing events, such as: change of city, job, relationship, etc. For example, one of the groups had a character called Charles who after such an event became Charlie.
  • It is also important to say where and when the character was born, to put them into place and context.
  • When placing the character, it is crucial to make some initial research and get the facts right, so that the character and story look realistic. This is valid for places and people, historic events, dates etc. What is more, this research can help with the development of the story – so if an important social or political event happened when the story needs a change, that could be the trigger.
  • Research can also be quite useful when we are writing about a character that belongs to a social group we don’t know much about. Looking at information about another person from the same group (especially if they lived in the same time period) can be very helpful, and of course inspirational.
  • As well as facts, we should not forget the character’s emotions. Emotions and feelings make a person more believeable, and make it easier to relate to them.
  • For presentation, it’s also important that we don’t rely too much on technology, especially if we haven’t checked what we can actually use. In a number of presentations, either there was no cable, no internet connection, or the software needed was not installed on the machine we had.
  • For this task, a workbook was needed as well. A mistake some of the groups made was to concentrate too much work and attention to the workbook; some were even presenting the workbook and not the character. In my opinion, it is better to have a piece about every interesting moment in the workbook just to mark it, but the real focus should be put on the presentation itself. A proof for this was our presentation (the Ginger Midget John McGrath) – we hadn’t put too much effort on creating a workbook (although we did have one), but rather made sure the presentation was interesting. In the end, we got very positive feedback, just because we were able to ‘sell’ our story.
  • Some rules for Powerpoint presentations:
    – slides are for bulletpoints and short sentencesnot full text paragraphs
    don’t use the same text that is on the slide to present the slide – people see it anyway, and, what is more, they can read it faster than the presenter
    contrast! people should be able to read the information, so no textured and/or colourful backgrounds and texts
  • It is always a good idea to rehearse the presentation; another good idea is that everyone in the group can speak about all aspects of the presentation, so in the case of someone missing, they can still easily present it.
  • Since we only have limited time to present the character and their life, it’s better to focus on more interesting periods than to try to ‘sell’ the whole story
  • It’s a VERY BAD idea to have long sheets of text from which you read at the actual presentation. This is what most groups were doing, and, although it shows some effort and preparation, it actually is a bad practice, because:
    – the text you write is more narrative; when presenting, another type of communication is needed;
    – the text is usually longer than needed, and focuses too much on style – in a presentation, it’s better to stick to the point;
    – when reading from a sheet of paper, you start to mumble to the sheet, speak quiet and unclear; what is more – you lose eye-contact with the audience;
    – it shows inconfidence and fear; it’s better to have a simple, but confidently delivered presentation than a very structured, but inconfident and emotion-poor one.
  • A good practice of some of the groups was, instead of browsing the web for images that would fit, to actually take the pictures themselves;
  • A good feedback point was that, in order to class as successful, the presentation should include that much detail about the character, that after the presentation, anyone from the audience to be able to use this information to write a new story involving the character.
  • For our particular character, we received positive feedback about having three different people in our character’s life that paint a fuller picture of what he was like; it’s good to be able to see the characters through different eyes.
  • If done right, it can be a good idea to only present fragments from the character’s life – in this way, you show the character is developing, and, what is more, each of these fragments can be developed in a different direction; when showing only fragments, you create mystery – which creates interest and as a result – better chance that the audience likes the character and the story; another aspect of presenting fragments is that no character is one-dimensional – there can be contradictions within them, which allows stories to emerge.
  • The better you present the character, the more believeable they become – they start to look like as if they were actually real. A good idea is to say what the character has been up to lately (if it is a contemporary one) – when we put them in today’s context, people start thinking they might even meet them tomorrow in the streets.
  • Some notes about taking pictures from the internet and what risks this has (especially when developing a fictional character):
    privacy risks – you are taking someone’s picture and putting it in a new and totally different context;
    mocking, slander risks – what seemed to be an innocent post on the character’s facebook wall could be identified as a mocking and slander attempt for the actual person on the picture;
    copyright infringement – it’s a photograph taken by someone else, that we just simply downloaded without their conscent – this could lead to legal actions against us;
    – generally, we are legally responsible for all these actions
  • One approach that received positive feedback was to introduce the character through his/her belongings and actual objects from his ‘cabinet’.
  • A good idea might be to add some of our personal experiences to the character (of course, if it is relevant) – this way, the story is more believeable; you know how it could end, because you’ve already been there.
  • There was one character that was presented with: ‘My name is Michael Turner. F*** my life.’ – the group received very positive feedback on this approach, because that is a clear statement which positions the character right from the start. It just sums it all.
  • One of the groups included an audio interview with their characters – which received positive feedback. It’s a good idea, in order to make the character more believeable and to show its context.
  • Another good approach was to include a CV for the character – showing relevant information about their education, professional development etc., to give a quick and clear overview of their background and at the same time to not go into too much unnecessary details.
  • Showing a spider diagram of the people in the character’s life (either a family tree or some other scheme) could be quite useful in a presentation as well – because usually, family and friends are a big influence for people, so you could enrich the diagram with comments who influenced the character in which way, etc.
  • One of the groups included a time-lapse video of photosone day of their character’s life; the feedback they received was that it would be better to spend more time looking around the character’s room, to tell their story with objects in the room, maybe show the shelves with books or the pile of magazines, etc., because a room can tell a lot about the person that lives there.

Probably the most important thing I learned from these sessions of creating and presenting characters was that creativity is not always about the idea that suddenly strikes you; actually, it is almost never the case. It is usually the result of thinking in a specific direction, something like ‘creativity on demand’ – we were introduced to various methods to find inspiration and to be forced to find connections between stuff that initially wasn’t linked in any way; putting things out of context and creating artificial links between them can lead to some unique ideas. I think this is a big aspect of being a ‘full-time creative’ – you don’t have to be a genius; you just need to be able to force your imagination when needed, and to know different ways to do that.

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