Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Expanding Influences

Word count: 95,043 in Microsoft Word (Open Office counts words more liberally, apparently!)
Pages: 407 in MS word, 12-point Arial font, 1-inch margins.
Listening to: The Normandy Reborn from Mass Effect 2

After a laborious couple of delayed flights into and out of the eye of a snowstorm in Charlotte en route to Chicago, I landed to deal with the crash of a hard drive, and am now faced with the likely prospect of losing the book notes and bibliography for my master's thesis in addition to reference material and extensive pieces of dialog for the novel. Also lost a lost of great quotes from Tite Tienou. *Sigh*

But the manuscript is fine. And, I suppose, that is all that really matters.

Pretty much since the beginning, I've kept a running log of references to help me visualize my characters and settings (PS: a lot of the work I did in this arena over break was lost with the hard drive.) As the story's main protagonist, it goes without saying that in this regard, I've put the most thought and effort into the Tru character.

When I first began formulating this story nine years ago (it was a Star Wars fan fiction, by the way,) the idea of the character who would become Tru was murky. She had no name and bore more of a characteristic resemblance (passivity, perception of weakness...) to the Evey Hammond of the V for Vendetta graphic novel. She was also not the main protagonist, and the story did not pick up her perspective for quite some time.

All of that changed when I was faced with the prospect of actually writing this thing. To make Tru a protagonist instead of a main character, I had to give her more depth than a plot device or a piece of eye candy. Originally, she was the medic or "healer" in a team of Jedi tasked with finding the Dark Jedi Sa'ava. When I got down to it, I knew the story would be more interesting if told from her perspective. After making this decision, I had to give her motivation for being so dead-set on finding Sa'ava. Though the fugitive was always to have killed a high-ranking leader in the order (formerly Jedi Council, now High Magister of the Quorum,) it was relatively late in the game that I decided that leader would be the mentor of Tru.

Factoring in a former friendship and the murder of 700 civilians, Tru's animosity had the necessary ingredients to be entirely justified. From that point, she wrote herself. Strong-willed, intelligent and full of justice on the surface, she hides her emotional and mental frailty from all but the most perceptive individuals as she seeks to avenge the lost.

I wanted a physical appearance for Tru that was consistent with her characteristics. In real life, we can't judge people's inner characteristics by the color of their hair and eyes or their height and weight. But in a story, we can use the way people carry themselves to indicate things about them (this is of course true in real life.)

I felt that giving Tru black hair would immediately imbue her with a degree of maturity and intelligence. Her healthy but light skin and dark-red eyes provide her with mysteriousness, I feel, while at the same time giving her intriguing, attractive qualities.

Her short hair is not so short as to indicate a total lack of interest in physical appearance, but it is without doubt more manageable and, thus, more consistent with a character who works much more than she plays.

Tru's original appearance was modeled after Audrey Hepburn. Yes, that's right: a woman considered to be one of the most beautiful ever. But she was also classy as school. When I pictured Tru, I pictured beauty without vanity, and when I think of beauty without vanity, I think of Audrey Hepburn. It's a simple tautology, really.

At the same time, the world of ARK is not our world. Imagine taking 50,000 of every major racial group on earth and throwing them all in a big mixing pot (the World Ark in the novel) for 800 years. By the end of it, there would still be African-looking people, Japanese-looking people, European-looking people. But a significant portion of people would be racially mixed--especially if encouraged to do so for the sake of unity. Audrey Hepburn was full-blooded European--of noble blood, actually--and I wanted to introduce something to Tru's appearance which would be consistent with the history of ARK. She couldn't just be French-looking.

In my search for a non-Western hereditary influence on Tru, I looked no further than Korean model Song Hye Kyo. The angles of Song's face are a little sharper than Audrey's, and I think taking advantage of both influences hints more at a mixed heritage for Tru. Additionally, though Tru's eyes are large and round, there is a hint of Asian in their shape.

I wanted to create a hybrid of the two ladies. While Tru is not a clear-cut Audrey or Song, her look is influenced by both of them.

All of those things considered, Tru has undergone numerous changes since my first draft of her appearance, below.

Tru First Draft

If your initial thought was, "She bears a pale resemblance to the women above," you're right. At the time, I had not yet downloaded additional hair, eye or skin colors for the Sims 2, which I used to create all of my main characters. The above image was the best I could do, and it wasn't very good. She looks a little too much like an adolescent male, her eyes are somewhat cartoony, her face isn't shaped right, her lips are too plump and her nose is too wide.

After spending countless hours online downloading custom content for the Sims 2 (just ask my room mate; he gave me a hard time about my bandwidth thieving) I cam up with something that I felt was an improvement:

Tru 2nd Draft

Now, this one is a definite improvement. The overall shape of her face and the features are decidedly more feminine. Unfortunately, the eyes still look like dog's eyes and her hair is reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger during his bodybuilding days. I still had a lot of downloading to do to find the right eyes and hair!

Tru 3rd Draft

Our third stage looks a lot less like a symptom of punctuated equilibrium than the changes between steps one and two. Here, Tru's eyes look like people eyes, and she has abandoned her wild mane for something a little more professional. Unfortunately, she is missing one of her most important features: dark-red eyes. I couldn't leave that detail out with good conscience, and thus, our final version of the character looks a little something like this:


When it came to clothing, I felt it was important for me to remember that she is a member of the government's official police/military arm, not a stripper. Like everyone in her order, her uniform is conservative and symbolic of the duties she completes and the virtues she upholds.It seemed ridiculous to portray her with the goods hanging out 24/7 considering what she does and how she lives. I have a vested interest in creating a strong female character, thus, according to the logic of this flowchart:


It would be best for me to do things which help the character remain three dimensional, such as not turn her into a sex object. Ahem.

Okay, that was sort of a rant. The point is, this is how she dresses:


Uniform, but not unisex. Feminine, but not slutty. And, like any uniform, there is purpose and symbolism to it.

After hours of working to get things to look just right via separate mediums, I was presented with a speed bump: I haven't practiced traditional art since the twelfth grade, and even when I did, I was never good at conceptual stuff.

I very much wanted to see everything brought together as a cohesive whole. So after a few weeks perusing Deviant Art, I found a few people who I decided to look into commissioning to draw Tru. The most helpful and responsive of these people was a young lady from Spain named Alejandra Perez:


After discussing a few details with her, she had this sketch to me within 24 hours:


And the final result about a week later:

Tru by Alejandra Perez

Personally, I liked the sketch better, as the facial expression seemed more burdened and tense, which describes Tru about 80% of the time. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of it, I thought the artist did a good job but I don't feel she captured the subtleties of my vision.

I haven't stopped there, though. I spoke with the following artist recently:


And commissioned him for a piece featuring two characters. Who are they? You'll just have to wait and see. All I will say is, I think the second artist's style better aligns with my vision. I have high expectations for what he'll be able to do and look forward to updating when I get his sketches!

This was a long one. If you hung with me, you've got my gratitude. Chapter 20 (I split 19 in 19 and 20) is progressing well!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tunes to Groove to

The past few days have been productive, totaling some 3,000+ additional words. Currently, I am running at 96,000 words on the whole, with over 10,000 in chapter 19 (my current) equating to about 75% of that chapter's completion.

I've taken a very interesting step by commissioning an artist to do a piece of concept art. I've received an initial sketch, and after payment goes through on Wednesday, the final result will be displayed in an upcoming blog. I'm excited to see what she'll do!

Until then, I want to talk about music. Yes, music.

In my quest to remain inspired, I find myself listening to a variety of tunes. Certain types of music (Coldplay, the Frames) are great as background noise to keep me focused on my computer screen. But at times, I find myself in need of something to set the mood. In doing so, I've happened upon a number of pieces that I feel capture the essence of some of my current and forthcoming scenes.

Here is a very abbreviated list of what I've been listening to.

The Balamb Garden theme from Final Fantasy 8 has been a consistent boon, and it goes particularly well with Tru's stroll through the Citadel academy in chapter 1,The Autumn Garden, as well as with the rush of students in chapter 11, If the Stars are Willing.

KOTOR: Bastila's theme. Though it has a Star-Warsy feel to it, the music's tension and somberness, when contrasted with the strength of the Bastila character, goes well with Tru's musings in the third chapter, Ghosts of Chimon-Jing.

KOTOR 2: The Jedi The haunting and tragic feeling of this song, when contrasted with its regal moments, narrates well the tense meeting of the Authority's leaders in chapter 5, The Conclave.

Holding my Thoughts in My Heart from Final Fantasy 7 is a memorable piece of music from the game, and, unfortunately, is relegated solely to Mt. Corel...which probably means nothing to you. Anyway, the piece goes nicely with a sunrise in the Argurial Forest, perhaps a slight reprieve from the difficult situation in which Laro and Sylvester find themselves in chapter 4, The Demon.

Unfortunately, The Last Airbender soundtrack is not available on Youtube. However, if you are really, really inclined, you might check some of the preview clips on Amazon.com or a similar merchant for tracks 6 and 12, "Hall of the Avatars" and "Flow Like Water." The former in particular goes very well with a yet unwritten scene. Another piece by James Newton Howard, however, is available online. The Great Eatlon from Lady in the Water has inspired what is, without doubt, the most epic thing I've ever imagined. I am not misusing 'epic' here. Listen to the music.

Silence and Motion from Final Fantasy 8, while not going with any scene in particular, has been in the background during much of the writing of the novel.

The boss theme from Final Fantasy 13 between 0:38 and 1:16 was in my mind while imagining a yet-unwritten part of the chapter 19, To Reap a Whirlwind. The same goes for 0:55-1:25 of The Opened Way from Shadow of the Colossus.

The Planets, Op. 32, Saturn, 3:00-3:28 fits well with the city of Daio and her capital tower. This crescendo in the music creates a sense of awe, magnifying the smallness of the listener. The massive city and tower create such feelings in their visitors in chapter 19, To Reap a Whirlwind.

In My Head and Tetsujin, 1:28 to the end from the Matrix Revolutions soundtrack, in conjunction with one another constitute a pretty interesting moment, though who, what, when, where, how and why are classified.

The Lunatic Pandora theme from Final Fantasy 8 is an ominous piece from one of the coolest gaming dungeons (in my opinion) which has been a bit of an inspiration for another yet unwritten part of the story.

Finally, the theme of the Lifestream from Final Fantasy 7 fits beautifully with the way I imagine one particular moment in a yet unnumbered chapter entitled The Winter Garden.

Here's to hoping a little insight into what I've been listening piques your interest regarding what you can expect to be reading when this work is complete. Thanks for reading!