I have no clue what my characters look like.
Okay, not 100% true. Just almost. I have no idea what their whole faces look like.
I do not clip pictures from magazines and glue stick them into a scrapbook, or have a Pinterest board filled with head shots. I don’t picture old neighbors or cousins or superstars when I write. I see beings, an aura, a movement. It’s as if the characters are traveling to fast for me to get a good look, or maybe I’m just so polite that I don’t want to stop them to stare. Even in a serious and intense scene, I don’t see faces.
Kinda creepy, now that I think of it.
I can glimpse the hair and see it messy or or coiffed. I know the color and style. I’m familiar with the character’s gait, shoulder width,and height. I certainly know if there’s a bump on a nose or a cleft in the chin. I define fashion sense. And sometimes I know eye color.
But I still don’t see faces.
When asked who would play my characters in a movie, I freeze. I don’t see my “people” on a screen, I see them on a page. Not that I’d reject a movie deal should Hollywood come to call, but I’d be more likely to say who I think could “pull off” the character rather than who looks like her.
When you meet Izzy Lane (for which I cannot wait!!) my main character in The Good Neighbor, you’ll know early on that her hair is short because her ex-husband always liked it long. I wrote Izzy tall (five-foot-nine) because that’s how I pictured her, with a gracefulness that I envision comes with long limbs. I don’t think I ever described the face of Izzy’s next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Feldman. She’s eighty-five. She’s spry. She speaks her mind. And she is also scared of a long-held secret. So, picture her as you want her to look. Like your favorite teacher, a grandmother, aunt or friend. Or leave her face peacefully blank, or always turned slightly away, filled in by story and emotion, not features.
In my work-in-progress, there’s a twelve-year-old girl. She is gangly in the way you know will turn into gracefulness in a few years, maybe more. She has long red hair and a tentative smile. I watched and recorded several cooking shows that featured kids, because I don’t have any twelve-year-old girls in my life and there were a few on the shows. One had just the right smile. Another was a little too grown up, but that was good to see. Another seemed a little too young. I noticed unplucked eyebrows and braces. Whimsy. Big smiles. Bigger tears. Those are the elements of a character to me, much more so than a portrait.
I write for myself, but my novels are published for my readers. I trust them to take good care of the characters, to allow the people on the page to be who the readers need them to be for that story—to look the part and be perfect for that reader only.
Do you picture faces when you read? Famous faces or everyday faces? If you’re a writer, who do you see when you write your own stories?