I hit a bit of writer’s block the other day when working on my novel. I was trying to get myself going when I realised I no longer had a firm idea of how I wanted my protagonist to look. I used to have an idea when I wrote the novel the first time but I don’t think I ever explicitly stated what he was wearing. Considering I want to evoke the tone of the medieval romances, this posed a bit of a problem. While I’m automatically dealing with elements of the romance through the medieval-esque setting, the knight’s quest plot line, a general narrative structure, and a sense of courtly love (although the plan is to blend this with a much more modern ideal of love), but the main thing I was missing from my plan was the importance of costume. Armour and clothing in medieval romance equates to identity. You need only to look at Chretien De Troyes’ Yvain (which can be read here) to notice this; the hero goes mad and strips himself of his clothing and armour, only restoring it when his wits are restored. It may sound simple, but characters get identified by their clothing and armour. The same is true of video games, where each character has their own unique silhouette and colour scheme by which they can be known.

Just look at the main cast of Eternal Sonata:

Main Characters of Eternal Sonata

Top left to top right: Falsetto, Jazz, Claves, Polka, Allegretto, Chopin, Viola.  Bottom left to bottom right: Salsa, March, Beat (Source)

Or look at any of the Final Fantasy casts (FFX is quite useful here as the idea for the hair of the royal family and their associates comes from Lulu and Yuna (As she appears in FFX-2):

Main Characters of Final Fantasy XThe Cast of FFX, Auron, Rikku, Waka, Tidus, Yuna, Kimhari, and Lulu (Source)

Character design is an integral part of visual media and if I could draw, I would most definitely draw my characters myself so that they become easier to describe. With a physical image I can identify what the pieces of clothing are so that I can create these unique but cohesive looks that fulfil their purpose of being functional but with a fun, aesthetically pleasing look. And so began the quest of outfitting my characters in an attempt to make faster progress in writing. The problem I found myself coming across was that because of the medieval-esque fantasy setting there was a draw to use proper medieval clothing. The issue with that is that it looks ridiculous.

Artwork of people in Medieval ClothingMedieval Clothing (Source)

Renaissance clothing doesn’t look much better. But then if you start to go any later, everything begins to look too modern. I tried thinking about the style of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, but this ultimately proved my point, as you can see below. (Source)

Still from the Ballroom Scene from Cinderella (2015)The ballroom scene from Cinderella (2015) (Source)

My frustrations were getting to me until I realised that the look I was after was one found in a poor film adaptation of a book very dear to my heart: Eragon. That series is what inspired me to get writing in the first place. My thought process then was, if Christopher Paolini can start writing an epic fantasy novel at 14/15 and go on to get it published then so can I! While I certainly haven’t managed to become a bestselling author by the age of 19, my dream became to get a novel published by the time I was 25 and with a bit of skill and luck, that dream is still in sight. I remember going to see the film on my birthday the year it came out and left utterly disappointed by it for various reasons. My disdain for the film meant that I never really looked at it again until the memory of Eragon’s look randomly popped into my head. Further research into how the costumes were designed/made gave me a greater appreciation of that element of the film and gave me a route to go down.

Main Cast of EragonThe cast of Eragon (2006): Durza, Ajihad, Brom, Eragon, Arya, Murtagh, King Galbatorix (Source)

I attempted to draw the two main characters, Hideki and Rosalina, and while it was clear that I really cannot draw people for the life of me, it was a reasonable success at developing a base outfit for them. Then I hit another stumbling block. There are three other characters in my team of heroes, Diana, David, and Arthur. I had a look for Hideki based loosely on Eragon, and a look for Rosalina which I’ve retained throughout working on my novel, but I couldn’t figure out a way to make the other characters work. Diana is the captain of the guard and while fantasy tropes would dictate that she be dressed in a sexual manner this didn’t sit right. In the first draft of the novel, I drew on inspiration from Claves in Eternal Sonata and Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy and still have the photoshopped image I made somewhere in my external hard drives. But this fitted into that overly sexualised, unsuitable for combat look that I now want to avoid. The issue with David and Arthur was that I couldn’t think of anything that would differentiate them enough from Hideki. I did some more hunting and thought about the designs used in Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. It’s a medieval strategy RPG series that I only got into with Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS but I’m grateful the series stuck in my thoughts because it has led to the designs you see below.

Artwork of the Lead Characters of The Burning Ash

From left to right: Diana, David, Hideki, Rosalina, Arthur.

They are in essence merely recolours with small edits (and not exactly phenomenally well done) of the characters Titania, Geoffrey, Edward, Laura (with Micaiah’s head) and Leonardo from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, only Hideki and Rosalina have the weapons I want them to have and so on and there are elements of each design which I wish I could change, but they are good enough to act as a base from which I can now work. The first thing you may notice is that each character has their own primary colour, and as a result there is a major Power Rangers vibe going on.

Two warriors, one female in a red flowing jacket with white armour and blonde hair, and a man in a similar faded green jacket and black armour

Do I see this as a problem? Not really. It’s just the kind of geeky reference I’m fond of making, but the most important thing is that the colouration allows for the symbolic resonance that is found in those medieval romances while also making character relationships more fitting. For example, Diana and David are in a relationship and their colour palettes and designs contrast and complement each other with the red/white and black/green. The red in Diana’s outfit also signifies her leadership role as it is generally always the red hero who is the leader. What I particularly like about this look is that it has the finesse necessary and with a few alterations it is also completely feasible as a combat outfit.

A young woman in a blue dress holding a magical staff and a young man in a green tunic wielding a sword

Hideki’s look revolves around green largely because of the tree motif that winds its through his character and it fits nicely with Rosalina’s blue dress. When it comes to Rosalina I am going further with my incredibly unsubtle symbols, as the blue rose means mystery, attaining the impossible and love at first sight in plant symbolism.

Artwork of a young man with black hair and yellow eyes in a yellow tunic holding a bow

Arthur has always been a bit of a difficulty when I’ve thought about him as he’s always sort of a spare character. That is in essence his purpose, never quite fitting in, a bit of a loner until Hideki arrives in the kingdom of Ryushima, and constantly trying to live up to the standard set by his brother David and never quite succeeding. In the end, yellow seemed to work the best as pink was too flamboyant and David was going to have black armour. I think it works out quite nicely as in design terms Arthur acts as a counterpart to Hideki (Think Green Lanterns Vs Yellow Lanterns without anybody actually being evil) but doesn’t neatly fit alongside anyone.

I probably should attempt to create designs for other important characters at this moment in time, but I think having the main cast sorted to some degree is enough to give me enough inspiration to get past the roadblock I was facing. It may not be an entirely useful process for other writers, but it has certainly felt integral to me making progress in my writing so I am very glad I’ve done it. Hopefully I can now get on with writing Chapter 2 and have fun with sculpting the first fight sequence in the novel! In the near future I’ll probably write a blog post about how I’ve gone about creating the weapon designs and another about the process I’ve used in writing fight sequences. With a bit of luck I’ll have the first three chapters and the core foundations of my novel complete so I can truly get on with writing it!