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Thread: Picturing Your Characters

  1. #1
    WF Veteran Gyarachu's Avatar
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    Picturing Your Characters

    I struggle to picture my characters in my head. Like, really struggle. At best I can get a very vague glimpse, though without being able to really nail down any specifics. At worst I picture a video game character I know, or a TV/movie character/actor. At the moment my two female leads look like Emma Watson and Bridget Regan. Obviously.*

    I just can't do it. I can't visually create a person, and when my characters end up involuntarily looking like ones I know, it really hamstrings my ability to develop them as their own person.

    Is this normal? Can writers usually picture their creations? Can YOU do it? If so, is there anything you find kick-starts/expedites the process?





    *And obviously my three male leads are all me.
    "Fantasy is the literature of hope. In fantasy there is a belief that you can make a difference. Today may be bleak, but you can live through today. And tomorrow will be better. And maybe there'll be a different darkness tomorrow, but you can live through that, too, and you can make the light come, and the darkness go away. It doesn't matter how many times the darkness comes. There is always hope for something better." ~Robert Jordan

    "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." ~C.S. Lewis

  2. #2
    Well from I've had in my thought bubble when it comes to characters its entirely possible for most newly "birthed" characters to have lots of resemblances to whoever or whatever your idea was as their basis when they were brought up. A trick I found is one where everything is set in stone (things such as handwriting, favorite music, clothes, etc.) really vague things and the character(s) preference while things such as (eye color, hair, backstory inserts, etc.) can be left out so your character doesn't get the "2-D" treatment and so that you can have those to build up on.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Gyarachu View Post
    ...Is this normal? Can writers usually picture their creations? Can YOU do it? If so, is there anything you find kick-starts/expedites the process?..
    I don't know about other writers, but I don't have any problem imagining what my characters look like. Then again, what they look like usually isn't an important part of the story, so even my own mental image of them is subject to change. But, yes, I can easily imagine what they look like.

    Maybe you're placing far too much importance on physical appearance? Unless there's a story hook, particular narrative style or a character or plot device involved, there's nothing special about what a character "looks like." I find it a fairly simple matter when it comes down to picturing characters - If what I imagine they look like needs to be changed, then their appearance changes.

    *And obviously my three male leads are all me.


    It's not unusual for writers to empathize with their characters or even to put part of themselves into a character. But, it gets boring writing about yourself all day, doesn't it?

  4. #4
    My characters never have faces at the beginning - only personalities. Who they are is defined by what they say and do, but I have no idea how they look.

    After the story is written and has been set aside for a while I'll read it again and that's when images of the characters form in my mind.
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  5. #5
    I know what my MC looks like. However, I leave it to the reader to form their own picture of him. I give only a bare minimum description of any of my characters even though I have a pretty good idea of what they look like.

    If a physical description doesn't do anything to move the story along, or is a VERY integral part of the character, like a limp or some physical deformity or something, I don't describe much.
    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” -Carl Sagan

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  6. #6
    Mentor voltigeur's Avatar
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    One suggestion that a friend in my critique group made was a photo album for your characters.

    I'm writing a historical thriller so my characters look like regular people. I found pictures of Salvadoran Guerrillas and my intelligence office I had pictured as crew cut horn rim glasses etc. Michael Douglas in Falling Down near dead ringer for who I envisioned.

    The one girl who is a guerilla fighter I did 3 pictures showing her at different stages of the story.

    It did have the effect of making my characters more real in my head. At first I thought is was a foo foo idea but it really works!
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  7. #7
    WF Veteran Gyarachu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smevel View Post
    Well from I've had in my thought bubble when it comes to characters its entirely possible for most newly "birthed" characters to have lots of resemblances to whoever or whatever your idea was as their basis when they were brought up. A trick I found is one where everything is set in stone (things such as handwriting, favorite music, clothes, etc.) really vague things and the character(s) preference while things such as (eye color, hair, backstory inserts, etc.) can be left out so your character doesn't get the "2-D" treatment and so that you can have those to build up on.
    Thanks for the suggestions, Smevel. I will try them. And welcome to the forums!

    Quote Originally Posted by Morkonan View Post
    I don't know about other writers, but I don't have any problem imagining what my characters look like. Then again, what they look like usually isn't an important part of the story, so even my own mental image of them is subject to change. But, yes, I can easily imagine what they look like.

    Maybe you're placing far too much importance on physical appearance? Unless there's a story hook, particular narrative style or a character or plot device involved, there's nothing special about what a character "looks like." I find it a fairly simple matter when it comes down to picturing characters - If what I imagine they look like needs to be changed, then their appearance changes.
    So you mean you can picture the details even? Nose shape, eyebrows, etc? I so wish I could do that...

    It's not that I feel it is all that important what they look like. It's that my mind automatically forms a picture, and since I don't have something of my own, it gets filled in by a character I already know. The problem with that is, since I then can only picture that pre-existing character, it is extremely difficult for me to think what my character would do, rather than this borrowed one. My creation gets hijacked.

    Quote Originally Posted by Morkonan View Post
    It's not unusual for writers to empathize with their characters or even to put part of themselves into a character. But, it gets boring writing about yourself all day, doesn't it?
    'Twas a jest regarding the dreamy-factor of the aforementioned females. (I couldn't tell if you thought I was serious or not. Darn internet.)

    Quote Originally Posted by garza View Post
    My characters never have faces at the beginning - only personalities. Who they are is defined by what they say and do, but I have no idea how they look.

    After the story is written and has been set aside for a while I'll read it again and that's when images of the characters form in my mind.
    Ah, sounds like a luxury. As mentioned above, I just can't stop my characters from being filled in by those I've already encountered.

    Quote Originally Posted by T.S.Bowman View Post
    I know what my MC looks like. However, I leave it to the reader to form their own picture of him. I give only a bare minimum description of any of my characters even though I have a pretty good idea of what they look like.

    If a physical description doesn't do anything to move the story along, or is a VERY integral part of the character, like a limp or some physical deformity or something, I don't describe much.
    Agreed on that. As a reader, I prefer minimal description. Problem is what I've mentioned above. Any ideas on how to fix it? Perhaps I should just make better characters...

    Also, same question to you as to Mork: how much of your character are you able to visualize?

    Thanks guys.
    "Fantasy is the literature of hope. In fantasy there is a belief that you can make a difference. Today may be bleak, but you can live through today. And tomorrow will be better. And maybe there'll be a different darkness tomorrow, but you can live through that, too, and you can make the light come, and the darkness go away. It doesn't matter how many times the darkness comes. There is always hope for something better." ~Robert Jordan

    "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." ~C.S. Lewis

  8. #8
    I can, and sometimes I even attempt to draw my characters, even though I can never get them just right on paper as to how I see them in my head.
    My blog. <--Proceed with der clickity.

  9. #9
    I don't have a picture of my characters. They're usually just vaguely-good-looking people with non-specific features. I don't care what they look like really, and the most description they receive in my writing is passing comments about hair or height or over all appearance. I guess you could say that attitude toward describing characters is reflected in not being able to picture them myself.
    I have an extensive knowledge of Mean Girls quotes.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Gyarachu View Post
    So you mean you can picture the details even? Nose shape, eyebrows, etc? I so wish I could do that...
    From fleeting moment to moment, yes... But:

    Quote Originally Posted by garza
    My characters never have faces at the beginning - only personalities.
    ^--- This is really what's going on.

    My characters are malleable in appearance, in some respects. However, I know my characters by how they feel. I pay attention to the important stuff, like what drives them, what makes them special, what they're thinking and feeling and what their hopes and dreams are. Roll all of that up into a ball and put some spackling paste on it and THAT is what my characters look like to me. I don't "see" them as much as I "feel" them. From that, I can give you a general idea, at any one time, what they may look like. If I wish to focus harder, I can give you details. But, it's not physical details that are important, is it?

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