Pre-visualising the characters

When director Bram Ruiter made a trailer for my previous novel, De Verdwijners (The Disappearers), I realised I’d wanted to have it earlier. Then I could’ve adapted the descriptions of the characters to the images for a more coherent ‘transmedial’ experience, and who knows what other creative sparks they could’ve caused. Better yet, I’d wanted a trailer beforehand, to inspire the entire project.

For Geometry Girl I haven’t gone as far as having a trailer made (Bram is busy, I think), but I did set illustrator Tim Hengeveld to work on developing the characters. The briefing for Tim alone helped; he forced me to describe these people to him in more detail, which forced me to make decisions that I’d apparently, subconsciously, postponed. And as soon as I’d made those decisions, it led to new ideas. Finishing something, even it’s just an ‘intermediate product’, leads straight to creativity, it seems.

Tims drawings made me happy too. Especially the illustrations of Berend Smit, the business partner, and the Japanese game developers, the Kojima twins, put these figures in a different, usable light. It was an interesting cross pollination between Tims work and mine, that also raised the question why I wouldn’t use these in the final Geometry Girl app. (One decision I’m consciously postponing a bit more.)

So here are Tim’s sketches, and my current, evolved notes for each character:

Luc

Luc Nijman

The main character. 21 years old. Former boy wonder, still a brilliant programmer. Silent type. Realises he no longer wants to help others with their problems, but make things himself instead. Thus he becomes a game developer. Early in the process of his first title, a wannabe business guy named Berend discovers Luc’s plans and gets excited. Thus Luc finds himself traveling to Los Angeles to show his game at a trade show… while his game is not ready at all. To make matters worse, his kind-of girlfriend Sadie just broke up with him, and he also discovered he has diabetes. It’s a recipe for (mental) disaster.

Sadie

Sadie Torenaar

The love interest (and social media starlet). 17 years old. High school student. The scar in her face is a reminder that a dog bit her when she was just 8. She’s quickly becoming famous through her live video feed. She has a lot to thank Luc for (re: the feed technology), and she really likes him… but at the same time, the outside world is welcoming her with open arms, and she feels she has to move on. Mostly out of guilt she keeps in touch with him while he’s in LA. That is, if the internet connection is feeling cooperative.

Berend

Berend Smit

The business partner. 35 years old. Always energetic. Over-the-top optimistic. Found Luc through Twitter. He’s tried many things in business (and life), and failed just as many times. But somehow he’s still not defeated, and he’s sure he’ll make it this time, in the games scene, with Luc’s ideas and programming talent. Berend’s father funds the project, but it’s unclear just how deep the treasure chest is…

The Kojima Twins

Kenichi and Toshiro Kojima

The recluse game developer brothers, both 38 years old. They’re world famous for their simulation game Fantasy Fortress, which they’ve worked on for the last 15 years and which just happens to be Luc’s big inspiration. The Kojima’s don’t care about money, and just want to continue making their game deeper and more complex. They hate the fact that they have to be at E3 and don’t like to work with anyone except each other. Although their demeanor is always composed, they’re rather paranoid below the surface.

Yuki

Yuki Yamane

The conference fling (and action hero). 25 years old. As the Kojima brothers’ PR representative, her job mainly consists of steering press away from the twins. She came to the US to go to college, before landing this gig. She’s very lonely though, and recognizes something in Luc. Luc likes her too, and soon she’s the ‘geometry girl’ of the game Luc is making…

Next up: how I further developed these characters during story workshops with students.

Remaking a literary story

Geometry Girl has its roots in a serial story I wrote years ago for the now-defunct local edition of Official PlayStation Magazine. It was called Ninja Gimmick Girl, and it appeared from August 2008 to July 2009, with an illustration by Gauthier de Booseré (see above).

It was about a young game developer who visits the E3 games trade show in Los Angeles to sell his game idea; he fails and nearly goes crazy in the process. I based it on my own experiences as a games journalist, especially my love/hate relationship with E3’s (empty) spectacle and (unrealistic) dreams. I put a lot of Bret Easton Ellis into the story, and not just in spirit, as the protagonist reads Less Than Zero during his trip.

Ninja Gimmick Girl had to be written quickly (partly my fault) and was published on a monthly basis, so I could never revisit earlier episodes. I always felt the story had more potential, so with Geometry Girl I’m going to completely re-imagine and rewrite it. It’s one of the project’s most straightforward ideas and probably its earliest starting point.

Some of the things on my wishlist: I want the lead-up to the ending to flow more smoothly. I want to bring in more warmth and emotion, as it’s currently quite abstract. I want it to reflect on videogames more than it does right now. For a long time, I thought I was going to describe ‘E3 2001’ in a more historically accurate, researched way. Instead, I’m going to bring it to the current day and make it more fictional, tying the story in with a long-gestating epic novel I’m hoping to write next.

The project is not just about unfulfilled potential, though. I like to see Geometry Girl as a literary remake of sorts, mirroring those in the movie and game industries. Of course there are examples of authors revisiting the same source material at a later age, but I want to see what happens when I dive back in with more writing (and life) experience. And I want to add my interdisciplinary collaborations into the mix.

That’s one reason why I haven’t rewritten it yet: I want to do that while looking at sketches and mock-ups, and while listening to sound effects and music. And I want to preview my drafts in prototypes of the app that readers will be reading in.

Another reason is the notion of having a pre-production phase and taking it seriously: I want to develop my characters, plot, structure and style before I start writing.

Finally, for now: I’m looking to do some of my writing in public, and somehow use readers’ feedback in the process. That’s why I’ve put the full text of Ninja Gimmick Girl, the prehistoric version of Geometry Girlonline as an ‘open draft’.

If your Dutch is up to snuff, feel free to read the thing and add your thoughts (anyone is free to add comments). My general sense is that the idea is good, but the execution is lacking, so I’m throwing most of it out and am starting from scratch. That’s why I’m most curious about feedback on what parts to keep.

Next up: how I’m using a cartoonist’s sketches to develop my cast of characters.