Sunday, April 26, 2009

Seeing is Believing

Do you see your characters in vivid color and detail? If you met them on the street or saw them on tv, would you know them?

I'm pretty damn anal when it comes to deciding what my characters look like. I fill out long sheets that sketch not just their physical attributes, but also their emotional, social, spiritual and political. Only once in all the time I've been writing have I seen a real-life embodiment of one of my characters. A hero!!! I was standing in Au Bon Pain getting a coffee and turned around and there he was right behind me. I looked, up and up -(the guy was well over six feet and I'm a mere five and some change.) I went directly to a phone where I called my critique partner. "You're never going to believe this, but I just ran into Rafe Santini!"
The announcement lost some of it's punch since I had to leave it on her voice mail - *sigh* - but I did get a return call a few days later wanting to know the entire story. I told her the entirity of the minute and a half incident, including the part where I stared at the poor guy like a carp on dock, complete with mouth flapping open and closed. (Oh, yeah, that was a real attractive sight, I'm sure)- Critique partner laughed at me and called me a lucky bitch. Why was I lucky? I'd just ran into a male of the species I'd conjured from the very depths of my heart and soul and did nothing but turn into an igit.

But I digress.

The point I want to make is that I've never been one to "cast" my books. I know some authors who decide what actor their characters look like and then go from there. I'm not condemning this or even saying it's wrong - because it's not. Anything that helps an author visualize or motivate them to write the story and get it on the page is definately doing the right thing. I'm just saying I don't do it that way. I don't know if for me it feels as if the confines of Hollywood and the modeling world make it seem to limited on looks for my characters, or if it's simply my imgination is so damn fertile it doesn't need the extra stimulation. But that's only the physical aspects of a character- which are almost secondary to who I feel the character is.

I'm a firm believer in showing who your character is through action, dialogue and mannerisms, quirks, traits and pets they own. Yes, I do physically describe them at some point (for me eyes are the most important - being the window of the soul and all) - but I try not to make the physcial into a laundry list all lumped into one paragraph. Showing the hero walking through a crowded restaurant like cock-of-the-walk tells more about him as a hero than all the broad shoulders and six-pack abs ever could. How does the man wear a suit? His worn-out Levi's? Does he brush a hand through his hair when he's nervous, or when he's skirting the truth?

Heroines are no different. Strong, certainly. Feminine, you bet. But I want them to show the reader their personality by what they say or what they hold back than to know they have bodacious ta-tas and skin without flaw. Again, I get around to that stuff eventually, but not in the first few seconds of a meeting.

Relying heavily on the body language during characters' conversations will reveal more of their inner turmoil or angst than the words will - sometimes. Just recently I wrote a scene in one of my contemporary romantic suspenses. I have the heroine lying straight to the hero's face - the words are in direct contridiction to her body language. And it's nothing overt - but very telling if you're the one talking to the character.

How do you like to introduce and showcase your characters? Do you like to give the reader a full description from soup to nuts, or dole it out slowly like a miser hoarding gold?



Sierra Wolfe said...

I've done it both ways, finding a picture first and then creating my characters, and not finding pictures at all. I usually don't find pictures to match what my characters look like in my head, so I just write them. It is hard trying to find someone who looks like my characters. Especially when I've already got a picture of them in my head.

Debra Kayn said...

I never find a picture of my characters. They are made up in my head, and for some reason I always pick some attribute that is difficult to find in a picture. Hair down to her thighs, Exotic and blue eyed, dimple in one cheek...and the list goes on.

I think I would totally freak if I ran into a real person one day that looked like one of my characters, lol.

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