Friday, July 19, 2019

How to Create Iconic Props

There are so many awesome props out there whether they be weapons, jewelry, or tools. Some props become so iconic that when that prop is nearly synonymous with its title.  Lightsabers = Star Wars. Keyblades = Kingdom Hearts. Sonic Screwdriver = Doctor Who. Some props when you think of it you immediately pair with a character. Sokka loves his boomerang. Gandalf wields his wizard's staff. Harry owns a wand with a phoenix core. Anduril stands out as a special sword among all of the other dozens of swords in fiction. How is that possible? Here are some tips on how to make props that your stories will be remembered for!

1.) What is its practical use? -  There are only two reasons why anyone lugs anything around: it has a practical use or a sentimental value. What does your character do with this prop? Do they use it to fight? Such as a Keyblade, a Lightsaber, Mjollnir, or even frying pan like in Tangled? Is it used as transportation like Marty McFly's famous hoverboard or Aang's staff? Is it a tool like a Sonic Screwdriver, Eren Jaeger's key, or Mary Poppin's umbrella? Is it used for more than one thing? Like a wand in Harry Potter can be a weapon and an instrument of healing. What does your character use this thing for?

2.) What cultural/worldbuilding does it allude to?- Do more than one person own this prop or a variant of this prop? Katara's necklace is a betrothal necklace in the Water Tribe culture. Everyone in Remnant has a weapon that's also a gun. It's a signature feature for the world! In the Wizarding World, all wizards and witches get wands. All ninjas in Naruto get kunai and shuriken. In Star Trek, every member of Starfleet has a communicator and a phaser. 

An item can be unique because it's signature to a world, but a prop can be even more special when it's unique among the standard issue. Ruby Rose's scythe is one of a kind in her world. No other Water Tribe necklace has the same pattern as Katara's. Kylo Ren's lightsaber is the only one with three blades. What makes that prop stand out among the other unique props?

3.) What memories are attached to it?- Not all props have to have practical value but the best props have sentimental value. Katniss keeps her Mockingjay pin close since it was a gift from Prim. Luke Skywalker's lightsaber belonged to his father and it's one of the few things he has from him. Ruby made her scythe herself and it resembles her Uncle Qrow's weapon. Inigo's sword was the last sword his father forged and now Inigo wants to use it to exact vengeance on his father's murderer. The Evenstar is the token Arwen gave Aragorn before his parting for his quest with the Fellowship. 

The memories can be positive ones or negative ones. Katniss's pin is a symbol of hope and a promise that she will come back for her sister from the Games and Ruby made her scythe in pride of her uncle's mentorship and skills. Inigo's memories surrounding the sword are ones of great pain as is Katara's around her mother's necklace since it reminds her of the tragic loss.

4.) How is it unique from other props?- There weapons, tools, jewelry, etc. that are commonplace. It's not unoriginal to have a character own a sword or gun since, depending on their world, it would be logical for them to own such a thing. But how do you make a commonplace prop stand out from all of the others like it?

Swords are a very common fictional prop. There's the Master Sword from the Legend of Zelda, Longclaw from Game of Thrones, Anduril, Orcrist, and Glamdring from The Lord of the Rings, Sting from the Hobbit, Rhindon from the Chronicles of Narnia, Crocea Mors from RWBY, Sokka's space sword or Zuko's dual swords from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kirito's Dual Swords from Sword Art Online, Samehada from Naruto, Excalibur from Merlin, Hiccup's flaming sword from How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Sword of the Father from Final Fantasy XV, Inigo's sword from The Princess Bride ... I can keep going, but I'll stop. Basically, there's a lot of different swords. 

So how can you tell all of these same objects apart? Well, of course, there's appearance. You can change the design of a sword. There are all kinds of different swords such as greatswords, shortswords, scimitars, bastard swords, etc. Different cultures design their swords differently. An elven sword differs greatly from a dwarven sword. You can make the quillion or pommel unique or there can be something inscribed on the blade. The Master Sword has its signature purple-winged quillion and Longclaw has a wolf head pommel and Anduril bears runes upon it. Some swords have magic like Sting glows in the presence of orcs. Some swords have their own backstories like how Anduril was forged from the Blade that was Broken or Longclaw originally had a bear head pommel but it was modified when its previous owner betrayed his father.

You can make these sorts of customizations with all sorts of props: bows, guns, axes, daggers, hammers, necklaces, bracelets, pins.

5.) How do they carry it around? - Your characters have to be able to transport your prop comfortably especially if they're traveling. It gets tiring holding something in your hand and you need your hands free sometimes. Though Aang mostly holds his staff, he keeps it on Appa when it's not in use. Kankuro keeps his puppets wrapped up on his back. Weapons can be kept in sheaths, jewelry on your body, and trinkets and other props in your pocket, backpack, or pouch. Frodo keeps the Light of Elendil in his pocket. If it's something that needs to be used at short notice, it needs to be kept at the ready so somewhere that it can be easily accessed.

6.) What would happen if they lost it or it was destroyed? - How would this loss affect the character or even the plot? When Aang's staff is mangled beyond repair this is devastating for him, but it also makes him resign that he needs to accept that the world must believe the Avatar is dead. When Hela destroys Mjollnir Thor feels weakened because he can't harness his lightning like he used to. Part of the plot in Infinity War is Thor forging Stormbreaker. Sokka was depressed for a whole episode when he lost Boomerang since he felt like his image was ruined. Because Frodo lost Elendil, Shelob got him.

Bonus: Try drawing it! - If you're making a really unique weapon sometimes you just have to draw it so you can get a clear picture in your head. You don't have to show it to anyone, this is just for you and your writing purposes. I've drawn several of my story's weapons and props and it really helps me.

Mor's pin from Red Hood.
Conclusion - Creating props is so much fun. I've referenced only fifty different props, but if you haven't consumed this much media like me, I suggest checking out some of the ones I mentioned just for inspiration. Props can define characters (Doctor Who), props can become symbols for your story (The Hunger Games), and props can even make a whole plot (The Lord of the Rings)! The possibilities are endless!

What is your favorite fictional prop? Do you own any prop replicas? Have you ever built a prop? What props have you created for your characters?

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