Visualising Your Novel’s Characters With Hero Forge

(Being a quick review of the miniature company’s custom design page as a writing tool, plus some thoughts from other authors (including Angry Robot’s Rod Duncan of Bullet Catcher’s Daughter fame)!!!)


In my youth I would fantasise about a contraption where I could design model miniatures and they’d pop out of one end fully formed. Think of it:  the ability to Games-Workshopily manifest whatever character or beastie one’s imagination might conceive. Why, with such a device one would be as a titan, a colossus, a golden god!

Ahem. Well, imagine my delight to discover (thanks to author Steven Poore) that that very contraption exists. Sort of. Near-as-damn. And, while my era of tabletop warfare is consigned to history, I’m finding Hero Forge’s custom miniature creation webpage does a nice, accidental sideline in helping me visualise characters in these here novels/stories I be scribbling at. Given it’s NaNoWriMo I thought it’d be useful to describe my experiences.

(It’s also set off a bit of a craze among my immediate writer pals too. I’ve asked them to show their characters here and offer their thoughts. See below!)

“What? He already had two holes in his chest when I walked in here…”

First off the bat, Hero Forge is great news for those writers who simply can’t draw. That’s a fair few of us. Personally, I can draw (a bit, sketches mainly) so I’ve always had a crack at drawing my characters and landscapes. I never quite get the results I want but I nearly get there and, frankly, that’s not so important. The act of consciously attempting to realise a character in the flesh sets the brain racing. You come up with more ideas and, more fundamentally, ‘find’ new aspects to your character, a deeper connection to them. It’s a process I’d recommend to any writer before or during their first draft and I’m delighted that HF extends this process to those of us with limited confidence at visual art. Indeed, that’s why I’m writing this blog post.

(The authors below haven’t ever gone in for drawing their characters before and I was fascinated to read how the opportunity effected them)

I found Hero Forge’s custom page to be really user friendly. Like chess (or Twister, whatever’s your taste) it’s a simple set up that leads to myriad combinations and even myriad-er results. You simply pick a species/gender template and modify body parts to taste (including facial expression), then select whatever clothing and items from all those offered. There’s a whole set of body poses too, which I always save till last because it’s truly what brings the character to life. Very often the pose I’d never have considered before starting is the one that completely captures them or, better still, brings something out about the character I’d never considered.

This character uses elements from SF, western and modern.

The downside, naturally, is you can never get exactly what you want by definition. But the upside is you’ll never mess the hands up or make the legs too short or a whole lot of other mistakes that eternally thwart the sketcher. And it’s 3D: you can zoom around your protagonist like a nosy drone with no concept of personal space. Perfect!

Hero Forge offers several genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Western, Eastern and Modern. Here’s my big bit of advice: if your novel doesn’t sit easily in any of those genres you can select ‘all’. Heck, even if your book does sit easily in a genre try ‘all’ anyway. You might surprise yourself.

(Happily, HF avoids Eurocentrism too. There’s the ‘Eastern’ genre choice for starters and a selection of afrocentric-style hairdos. There’s limits to body shape, unfortunately. You can make a large, muscular character but not an overly chubby one. Understandable when you consider Hero Forge have to place a limit on raw materials. They are a miniature company after all) screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-09-21-26

And that’s all I have to say really. Give it a go. It’s pretty addictive once you get into it. The final cherry on the pie is also what Hero Forge intended in the first place: you can send off your order and receive your novel’s character as a miniature. I’m certainly gonna treat myself to that. A wonderful reward for getting through a novel. Indeed, I think it’s the least I can do given how much their site has helped me.

And now here’s some thoughts from other authors who’ve engaged with the process…

Rod Duncan, author of the Fall Of The Gas-lit Empire series (Angry Robot):  Elizabeth Barnabus

14961312_10154205712907515_592794057_nAs an author, I’m entitled to my own ideas about what my protagonist looks like. Indeed, I have a vintage photograph of a young women who looks exactly like Elizabeth Barnabus as I imagined her when I wrote The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter.

But here’s the thing – readers’ ideas are no less valid. I expect each of them to take away a different mental image, since little visual detail of Elizabeth is given.

This is what we know of her: She has dark hair, long enough to pull over her face when she wants to hide on a dark night in a hedgerow. She isn’t described as being a great beauty, but her exotic lifestyle makes her enticing to some. She was described as being ‘puckish’ when 14 years old. And we must assume she is taller than average now she is in her 20s. It is all deliberately vague.

It seems to me that the image formed in a reader’s mind is more likely to be influenced by the way she speaks, acts and thinks, by the choices she makes and the way people react to her, by the environment she inhabits and the loyalty she inspires. A visual image thus formed will be different for each reader, individually tailored by the unconscious mind, and thus a perfect fit for the character.

It would be unfair and unhelpful of me to share that vintage photograph and say ‘This is the correct way to see her.’ But the Hero Forge system is rather different. It is vague on facial features, stronger on stance and clothing. Those limitations might be considered weaknesses. But if the end result looked exactly like MY Elizabeth, I wouldn’t be able to share it.

I certainly found it an interesting and absorbing process, which made me think with greater precision about her physicality. It was also fun and time consuming in equal measure.

She is wearing the clothing that she might use if venturing in the wilderness beyond the borders of the Gas-Lit Empire; the practicality of a man’s clothes without the restriction of a binding cloth to disguise her figure. I think she would be happy to go about like that. I ended up putting the resultant image through and giving the background a pink to blue wash.

Daniel Ribot, author of Vampsov (Omnium Gatherum): Gancsz

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-19-36-52One of the interesting things about putting these together is working out the body shapes etc. Did I know before this that Ludmilla’s hairstyle was a Chignon? Nope, but it is a detail I will keep in mind now. It’s a great little site old Hero Forge!





Phillip Irving, author & blogger: Aldin and Hobin





So I had my characters in my mind for a long time, even before I started to write. I knew Hobin was going to be a slight but lethal man from the desert; Aldin a big, beer-drinking lawkeeper. But when I looked back over the copy I’d actually written, there were few specifics about how they looked. Hobin was lean; Aldin had big hands. Not much mention of hair. Beards, an almost-certainty for all but the wealthiest fantasy characters, were barely mentioned. I had thought in only cursory terms about clothes.

What was nice about putting them through the Hero Forge process was that it made me pin down some of the detail. Aldin is dressed simply in nobleman’s clothes, as befits his status as Queen’s Nose. Hobin wears his shaii and simple martial arts garb, not because he is a martial artist in the generic sense, but because it is the simplest attire and thereby the most appropriate. Weapons were fun to think about and match to details; I realised after the fact that Aldin spends much of the novel unarmed. He is instead holding a lantern with which to shine a light on the truth. A metaphor I suspect he would thoroughly disapprove of.screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-19-46-21

It was gratifying to see the end result and, while some of the specifics were inevitably slightly different from my own imaginings, I couldn’t help but feel I was coming face to face for the first time with old friends.






*PS: Before you ask, yes it is possible to design Jimi Hendrix…


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