Sketching characters from “hail the pumpkin king”

When I was growing up, I had a lot of sketchbooks.

I drew a lot as a kid. Not many people know this about me (my old art teacher aside, who once taught me how to paint ducks that won 2nd place in the Maryland Junior Duck Stamp Contest, which is an actual thing that the government runs).

And no, I’m not going to show you my ducks. If you want to see them, they are hanging in my grandparents’ living room in Florida.

THE POINT IS, I used to draw a lot. I drew before I could write, and all through high school, I sketched the characters I was dreaming up in the first stories I wrote. Then, when I got to college, a few things happened: I became friends with a theatre designer and an animator. And I got all bashful and self-conscious and holed up in my wordy brain.

It’s taken me a while to get out, but I’m sketching my characters again. And they don’t exactly suck, but they don’t… y’know, not-suck either. But that’s okay.

It’s helping that I’m working on a new novel that started as nothing more than a mood board. Weirdly, this story has always come in images rather than words. Seems only right that it should be drawn and written.

When I first started writing “hail the pumpkin king,” it was just supposed to be a short story. But unfortunately, my brain hates me and likes long-form.


“Solyndria” (reference)

So when I started to run into plot snags—as always happens with me—I decided I would sit down in my living room, and break out a sketchbook I hadn’t touched for at least four years.

Winifred Cole“Winifred Cole” (reference)


living room couch

And whadaya know? I’m unsnagging my plot again, cross-legged on my couch, taking it portrait by portrait.

Unanticipated things this novel is making me do:

  1. Learn to draw faces without making one side larger than the other, which, clearly, I have not yet figured out how to do. But it’s okay, because I like my faces lumpy and disproportionate.
  2. Create a story bible for this fantasy world I’m making up. New things for me.
  3. Let go of my need to make everything make logical sense. Because of magic and stuff.
  4. Reread my favorite fairytales (the best problem ever).

Samantha Chaffin

What are your tricks for getting out of a writer’s funk (we don’t use the b-word around here anymore)? Do you sketch? Play music? Share yours below!


13 thoughts on “Sketching characters from “hail the pumpkin king”

  1. Alyssa says:

    OH MY YOU DRAW SO AMAZINGLY. Is that a word? I can’t even bring myself to care. Because argh I have all the feels (again) for all hail the pumpkin king now. It’s fabulous how you use drawing to get past writing slumps. And I also always have that problem about my brain refusing to write a short story and insisting this needs to be a novel. ARGH. It’s simultaneously a good problem and a bad problem.

    • samchaffin says:

      Thank you, Alyssa! And YES, I’m so glad somebody else understands my misery/euphoria here. My brain was just not wired for short stories. Every time I tried to write one for my fiction writing-classes, it went badly for me. I tried to write 20-page shorts and my prof was like, “…no.” -_-

  2. Reagan says:

    Oh, my goodness. I DIDN’T KNOW YOU DREW SO WELL. Those are beautiful. I always want to draw my characters. I’ve been wanting to draw Fin and Lark SO BADLY. But I can’t draw.

    Nix that. I can draw stick figures. There we go.

    And theatre design people, man. Puts a person to shame. My best friend was a theatre design major, and I had no clue where to begin when she asked me for help on projects. Hahaha.

    Anyway, I cannot wait to read this story. I’ve been seeing the board on pinterest for a while now and it is spiked my curiosity. I want to read it!!

    • samchaffin says:

      Girl, you should totally try it out anyway. Sometimes art-ing in different ways helps unblock (whoops I said it) the dam in your head… but YES, freaking theatre designers and their amazingness. I loathe all of them.

      And thank you!! I hope you can read it someday. 🙂

  3. Christina says:

    AHH. I know I said this on Instagram already but YOU. YOU CAN ART. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw my characters, if only to get a handle on what their faces are actually like (I can never clearly visualize characters’ faces for some reason? yeah). It’s so great that you have this method for getting unstuck. Personally, I do a messy combination of cursive freewriting and music (unfortunately my cursive is *hideous*), but I am trying to get better at systematically getting myself out of writer’s funks.

    (Also OMG I have a friend who won a prize in a Duck Stamp Contest once. So I guess that makes two friends now :D)

    And you’re working on HtPK! This is a thing that makes me overuse exclamation points! Eeek! And pssh it totally needed to be a novel anyway, IMO. There was too much ~awesome~ on that Pinterest board.

    • samchaffin says:

      Ahaha thank you, Christina!! 🙂 And I totally freewrite, too, to help myself get unstuck! I love that you write in cursive… I have always had really hideous cursive, haha, so that would be a big problem for me. I would just obsess about how bad my handwriting looks.

      (I am so shocked that ANYBODY knows what that Duck Stamp Contest is. What are the odds?!)

  4. Lee says:

    Omg, you are so mega talented, Sam!

    I’ve been a huge fan of your Hail the Pumpkin King board for AGES, and it is so intriguing to get a glimpse of your characters!

    • samchaffin says:

      Ahh, thank you so much! I’m such a fangirl of all of your art and lit mag and writing stuffs that it pretty much makes my whole life to hear you say that.

  5. thejaneite says:

    I WISH YOU HAD AN EVEN LONGER NAME THAN SAMANTHA SO I COULD USE IT FOR EMPHASIS HERE. holy freaking freak, girl! so, story time: when this came into my inbox however-long-ago I started to glance at it, was entirely floored, and then had to run out the door and was like, “no worries, I’ll leave her a comment later!” obviously didn’t happen.

    but you must know that every time I think you’re the coolest person I know, you take it up another notch. I’m not even joking a little, you’re amazing and you have one of the most incredible, creative brains I’ve ever seen, and I aspire to be more like you. (AS IF haha a girl can dream *laugh-cries*)

    these sketches are amazing. I’m sorry that you’ve put them aside, even though I get the whole talent-intimidation thing soooo well myself. (*makes note to self not to post drawings from now on*) haha but seriously. thank you for sharing. you’re awesome, your imagination is awesome, your girl with the feathers is my new woman crush and sooooo much awesome-r than the one that inspired your sketch, and I’m pumped for this book.

    I’ve also been meaning to start a story bible for at least one of my books, ever since reading that list of plotting techniques! not sure which though- maybe Phoebe. (cool story: my “Three Hearts” story also started as just a themed pinterest board of all things eerie and winter-related, and then these people presented themselves and I had a story, but it’s still so hard to write because it’s really a whimsical and creepy movie in my head, not a book. weird visual stuff.)

    last thing because I’m going on and on! as far as getting out of a writer’s slump, pinterest helps actually!! trolling my own boards, usually. haha also, rereading a good portion of a project, right up to the point I left off, gets me anxious to keep it going. kind of a cliffhanger feeling. doesn’t always help, but it’s the most consistent tip I have. 😉

    oh! real last thing: what is it with writers who started out by drawing? apparently Kim has the same story, and I definitely do- there are probably lots of us. an army, even. an army of artistic writer introverts. scary.

    • samchaffin says:

      Duuuuude. You’re the bomb. Thank you for your novel-esque comment. ❤ ❤ And OMG NO you CANNOT stop posting your drawings/sketches. You are far too talented to be intimidated by ME. Ha!

      Also, I love your recs for getting out of writers' slumps. I definitely scroll through my own Pinterest boards to try to inspire myself, but it can also be a black hole where I look up and it's 2 hours later and I have no time to actually write…

      And YES, I think Kim is definitely hiding her mad drawing skills, and it's now her turn to post her doodles. WE WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

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