A Writing Journey

Finding Characters

I love looking at photographs of people. Each person has a million stories to tell, a million secrets in their eyes. My favorite photos are black and white,  but not necessarily old.  The lack of color makes the secret stranger,  gives the subject a mysterious look. When I see someone starting out at me from a photograph,  I can’t help but imagine who they are,  how they game to have that expression,  where they are going.  I stare back.  And then I write.

Characters are the heart of any story.  If the characters don’t work for me I won’t continue,  whether I am reading our writing. So I put a lot of effort into creating my characters and one of the first things I always do is find their face.

Some writers can describe a face perfectly and have it set in their minds.  I’m not one of them.  I can describe a building to the smallest detail and see the whole thing in my mind (though this level of description can be a bad thing for a novel,  so I don’t employ it) but all me to visualize a face and I am lost. So I find faces that resemble how I imagine my characters.

Maybe you think I’m crazy,   and that’s okay,  but if I have a photo in front of me,  I don’t waste precious words trying to get the exact write image to my readers.  Instead,  I give broad brushstrokes.  But when I don’t have that photo,  I try to describe every minute detail and it becomes word soup.

If you are like me,  I highly suggest that you look for your characters before you describe them. Who knows,  you may find someone brand new that calls to you and demands to have their story told.

How do you go about creating characters?  Do you search for them or do they find you? How do you describe them?

Take care,  fellow travelers.

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Comments on: "Finding Characters" (10)

  1. I tend to not pay too much attention to describing how my characters look. I like showing their personalities and using characters’ thoughts and reactions to each other to show who they are. I know their size/shape and basic things like hair and eye colour but struggle with facial features and other specifics. I think it’s because as a reader I usually don’t visualize the faces of characters well either. I hang on to key words here and there like hair colour or a beard or the way they present themselves but the face is a fairly blurry image.

    • I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has that problem! I’ve always been better at visualizing the characters’ surroundings, but the face, like you say, is a blur. Personalities is the best way to show who your character is. After all, if their appearance doesn’t actually effect the story it isn’t really necessary to write too much about. Now, if your character has a lazy eye and in the culture they are a part of that is either cause for abandonment or high honor or something, then it ought to be included. But repeating over and over that a character has curly hair or blue eyes just drags me out of the story. And I’ve learned from experience. I used to repeat those things every few pages because I couldn’t keep the face in my mind – that’s why I started using pictures. With the picture in front of me, I don’t have to keep the face in my mind and I don’t have to worry about writing descriptions of the characters all the time.
      Take care,
      Emily

  2. I start with the basics like eyes, hair, and build. Then I flush it out as I write the story. I concern myself more with their quirks, abilities, weapons, and personalities. I try to make them look more unique with their clothing choices, but I have no fashion sense. Sometimes being vague on the physical descriptions can help. It gives the reader more freedom of imagination.

    • Vagueness is definitely the way I choose to go. I describe my characters once, sometimes adding in a reminder later during the course of action, but for the most part I don’t worry about it. I always hated being told over and over what the characters looked like (especially when they don’t match the cover!) so I try to avoid that. Personality is definitely the most important part of developing a character.
      Take care,
      Emily

      • I repeat hair and eye color at times if it fits the scene. As for the cover, the author doesn’t have any say over that. For traditional publishing, you’re in the hands of an artist that might not have read the book. They have vague ideas of the characters and just go ahead with them. I’m happy if a cover comes close to a character description these days.

        • I understand that authors don’t have much (or any) say over the cover, but it still bothers me. The artist should at least get a description of the characters, I think, or not include them at all. While it sometimes fits the scene to repeat hair or eye color, I feel that it is most frequently used in romantic settings – especially talking about a female or writing from a female perspective. As a female myself, I find that ridiculous. There are much more important things to think and write about – I’m not going to spend my time worrying about appearance. Once or twice is good enough for me. 🙂

          • It irks me, but sometimes one has to sacrifice exact looks for talent. There are occasionally visual difficulties between the character’s look and the cover scene. I think it depends on style too. With multiple warriors, I use hair color to describe them at times instead of repeating their names.

          • Very true. That’s an interesting way of keeping them distinct – names are frequently over used. Its hard not to though, if we want readers to know what’s going on. Kudos to you for finding away around that.

          • Thanks. It’s not the smoothest plan, but it helps with dialogue scenes.

          • It’s better than some plans 🙂

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