Thursday, 1 August 2013

Do You 'See' Your Characters

When I begin writing my story, which in my case is a spreadsheet which lists my research, chronology and scenes which plot out where I am going, like most authors I follow the 'writers' guide' which suggests I visualise my characters. Know what they look like, what their hair texture and eye colour is, are they strong featured, delicate, tall, short etc etc. Then give them likes and dislikes, mannerisms, aversions and favourites, prejudices, flaws and soft spots - all devised to make them three-dimensional and memorable.

How do you decide what your characters look like?  Can you conjure up a complete picture in your head from the first page, and form a credible person complete with mannerisms, do you build them up slowly as the story progresses, or do you need something more specific to help you along?

Being someone who has little inner vision - eg if someone says, 'Imagine this room without the swirly carpet, the swagged velvet curtains and the mustard paintwork - imprint it with neutral colors, a feature wall and a new stone fireplace.' Are you there? Nope me neither - I cannot see beyond the 60's carpet and the dusty pelmets - I just can't.

I search the web for images of people from the right era, age and roughly the same colouring as the ones I have pictured in my head -a tactic I employed with my latest novel, a cozy mystery set on board a steamship in the year 1900.

I find it much easier to give them facial expressions, mannerisms, even opinions by keeping these images to hand. How do others fix a character in their heads? - and for those of you who are familiar with my wip - is this how you visualised my amateur sleuth and her accomplice?


Lisa Yarde said...

Not only do I see my characters, but they also tend to want their stories told in a certain way. Some aggravating.

Diane Scott Lewis said...

I usually have my characters "looks" right away, but their mannerisms
evolve over time as I get to know them better.

The pic of Bunny is pretty close to how I picture him; for some reason I
pictured Flora with darker hair and a squarer face.

Jen Black said...

I didn't catch the period your portraits depict. I see Flora dressed in the costume of possibly the thirties, long swinging skirt but definitely way above the ankle. I don't think you've ever mentioned a corset or a floor length gown to trip over as she negotiates those stairs.....Bunny?Well a little more Montgomery Cliff than the portrait you show. But -- does it matter?? Each reader will build their own picture....

Maggi Andersen said...

I see my characters pretty clearly before I begin writing the story. Then I find images to support it. I saw Bunny differently. This man looks older, doesn't have the boyish charm. I can't remember Flora's hair or eye colour but this is pretty much the way I imagined her.

Ursula Thompson said...

I can picture my characters pretty well, and add mannerisms and other things as I go along.
Now when it comes to Flora and Bunny, I think Flora looks pretty good. Bunny - for some reason I picture him with dark hair, more like a 30s actor; a young Clark Gable, or Robert Donat.

Lisa Elm said...

Great question, Anita. It will be interesting to see how everyone goes through this process. As for myself, I have a general idea of what my characters look like, but as a far as mannerisms and gestures, I learn that as I'm going along and rework things through the second draft.

Maggi Andersen said...

Writing romance requires a different approach of course. Everything's a tad
over the top, which romance readers expect. I'm quite visual, I 'see' my
characters early on, but I also have a spread sheet with pics and details of
the characters, their relationship to each other, homes, ages,
personalities, etc., which I add to as I discover them while writing the
story. For the contemporary romantic suspense I'm writing I found a pic of a
girl with white blonde hair with arty streaks of blue and orange. She became
one of my twins - the quirky artist.
When I think of Flora, I see a natural looking English woman with good
features and nice hair, who downplays her good looks - either she isn't
aware she's nice looking, or disregards it. I see Bunny as a tall lanky
boyish looking American. I may well be wrong, I'll pop over and see.

Anita Davison said...

I agree,Jen, the reader will build their own image of the characters - which is why I always find films of books disappointing as I never imagine the characters the way they are cast - but I do this to give me a reference to base their personalities on.

Katherine Pymm said...

Unless historically real, I am intentionally vague about the
*main*characters' looks. This allows the reader to physically design
characters as s/he prefers, making them more personal, and endearing.

Anne Gallagher said...

Like you, I have to find pictures of my characters before I even start writing. Mannerisms come as I write the book. As long as I know what they look like, I'm good.

Laura Purcell said...

I love these photos! I'm going to imagine Bunny and Flora like this now when I read. I guess I'm lucky with my writing - I already have portraits of the people.

Rosemary Morris said...

Before I begin a novel I complete a detailed character profile for the main characters which includes their appearance. As I write the novel I fill in a shorter character profile for minor characters which also includes their appearance,

Suzanne Fox said...

Wonderful post! I so "get" your strategy regarding images of characters. When I write contemporary fiction, I find it easy to imagine my characters and need no added visual aids. But working now on a 19th century novel, I find that images of the period help me imagine the characters more fully--their posture, the small details of dress they might choose, and so on. I don't necessarily write to or describe the images exactly, but they help. Anyway, thanks again for a fun post!