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Character and Plot Creation: A Tutorial
By Ribby

Hello! I'm Ribby, creator of the series Hikawa Hijinks! and Magical Girl Mistress Key. To some, Kamishibai is an arduous task because of their artistic ability, their writing ability, or both. I have had plenty of experience in writing short stories, so character creation comes easily to me.

I will start my example here with the characters from Hikawa Hijinks. Some of you might find some steps easier than others, and some may do some steps before others, but this is the way I created the three kids of Hikawa Hijinks.

STEP ONE: The Three Principles of Character Creation
    The three main things that you have to consider in a character are:
  1. Who are they? Is your character male or female? How old is he or she?
  2. What is their personality like? Are they laid back, determined, smart, struggling, cheerful, or melancholy?
  3. What does your character look like? Are they cute, pretty, handsome, or just plain normal? Do they have any striking features?

When I created Reiko, she existed in my mind as just a name that sounded great. Most characters start out as names first, but then become "real" as you begin to develop them. The night I came up with the idea of Hikawa Hijinks, I was in an Internet chatroom with a lot of people (including my boyfriend ^_^) when the idea came into my head. I raced into my bedroom, grabbed a notebook and pencil, and sketched out the first "inklings" of Reiko, Sumire and Mamoru.

Creating Reiko was pretty easy. She was, in a sense, a technological genius. I immediately knew that she'd have to have glasses (as do I, but I'm not that much of a genius, I'm only taking one honors class this year at high school). My imagination took over from there. Sometimes, you have a sort of idea in your mind of a character similar to what you're creating, and you borrow parts of their personality to put onto your character's. For Sailor Moon fans, it's easy to see the influence on Reiko: the pretty genius Sailor Mercury. I wanted to give her a unique touch, so I gave her pink hair like Shun from Here is Greenwood. Mamoru was a little tougher. I, of course, borrowed the name from our own dear little Cape Boy. Since my Mamo's a star athlete, I thought of some of my own high school friends who played sports. In fact, probably the only influence that resulted in Mamoru was from that. In Sumire (whose name comes from the anime Here Is Greenwood, Sumire is the former love of Kazuya who married his older brother) it is clearly easy to see she has had some influence from Sailor Moon, but I also added in some "valley girl" and "C-ko" aspects.

Creating the "fantasy" characters of Kazaro was a little harder than creating the three main characters. For example, I didn't have a definite picture of Lusha until I came up with her name (the youth director at my church is named Lucia, so I varied the spelling). Her character type is the classic secret princess type, and was influenced partly by stories from The Arabian Nights. Rill is the best attempt I could make at a bishonen. He is very protective of his cousin, extremely heroic, and is wise beyond his years in knowing the right path to take. Even though he isn't a bishonen, the first character I can think of who is an influence on Rill is Kanou Nozumu(?)/Kanon from "Nurse Angel Ririka SOS." Jacca, of course, is the classic anime villainess! Beautiful looks, sinister laughter (which, BTW, is Vina's laughter from "Dragon Half") and, of course, a VERY sexy looking outfit. Her influence can be clearly seen in the two main villainesses from "Magic Knight Rayearth," Alcyone and Caledina, and ANY youma from Sailor Moon.

Now that I've given a few examples, think of your character. First of all, think of a name, and then, try to think of a face to fit the name. If you are a good artist, try drawing the character on paper and looking at him or her to see if you think the name fits the face.

STEP TWO: The Plot

Hikawa Hijinks is very loosely based on the anime and OAV El-Hazard. I've never seen either of those, and my knowledge of it is only based on an article in Animerica Magazine. In El-Hazard, Makoto Mizuhara, his rival Katsuhito Jinnai, his friend Nanami Jinnai, and his teacher Mr. Fujisawa are drawn into this strange world and immediately begin a long adventure. See the similarities???

When I was done with drawing Mamoru, Sumire and Reiko I wrote down a short plot summary on the other side of the page. Writing down summaries is good if you have a definite beginning and end, but no idea on how to write the middle. That way, you can refer to them to see how the plot goes. I always make things up as I go along when I do Kamishibai stories, so summaries are very important. Here is the summary I wrote for "Prisoners of Dreams" (spoilers here if you haven't read it yet):

"Rill and Mamoru wake up the next day to find the girls vanished and Chi Chi very concerned. Rill's gift of communicating with animals tells him and Mamoru that the girls sleepwalked to a cave. Meanwhile, Jacca encounters her father Kerses while guarding the cave and argues about what to do with Lusha. Her father zaps her and that is how Rill and Mamoru find her. They tell her to join up with them and they venture through the cave together, finally fighting against one of Jacca's monsters that has gone out of control. The six of them, all rescued, head off down the road again."

Have you got any trouble thinking up a plot? Read a book, a fairy tale, read the newspaper, watch TV, or (best of all) watch a favorite movie or anime. You'll probably find a great plot right under your nose!

Of course, when you have a plot, try to think of your character in that environment. A 13 year old magical girl in the middle of a devastated Tokyo? Maybe not. (If you get that to work though, you're more creative than the guys at the Weekly World News.)

STEP THREE: Setting the Tone of your Story

You've got Character A and Character B in C town on a quest to get the D thingy and fight Evil Villains E, F, and G. So how are you gonna tell the story? Are you going to make it over the top like "Komodo no Omocha" or "The Slayers?" Are you going to make it fairly normal and straightforward, like "Here Is Greenwood?" Or is it going to be dark, ominous and foreboding, like "Neon Genesis Evangelion?"

Tone is important if you want to give your story depth. The story of a little girl getting her first pet sounds much different if you tell it in the point of view of her father rather than the little girl. Two sides fighting in a war may have different stories of how the war began and of the atrocities committed by either side. Therefore, if you want a story to read good, you have to give it a good point of view and good tone. There are two types of narration: first person and third person. From first person, the story is told as though a person sees it. Third person views can be a view that looks into a persons thoughts, or a view that does not see their thoughts. In my stories, I switch from first person to third person often. My story "Magical Girl Mistress Key" is given a sort of cute tone, since it is told by a 14 year old girl, while "Hikawa Hijinks" is told by three mature teenagers in high school, and is made serious. The tone also gives rise to artwork and music. The Sailor Moon song "Route Venus" is the MK theme song since its cute and bouncy, and "Fire Soul Love" is the theme song to Hikawa because of its mature sounding tones.

Think of the plot your character is in. Would the story sound better told by someone else other than your character, or by the character themselves? Is the character mature enough to handle telling the story seriously?

Now you're ready to make yourself a good Kamishibai!

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