Monday, March 19, 2012

Characters In My Mind's Eye

I often wonder how other writers picture their characters in their heads as they write.  Having worked on cover art for a couple publishers and seen spec sheets written by various writers, I can only assume different writers "see" their characters with different levels of detail.  I know some writers who have muses like actors or musicians.  I also know some who really don't care about their characters' physical appearances and prefer to focus on who they are and how they act.

I tend to picture my characters in very high detail, at least in part because I'm an artist by profession.  While I haven't drawn Riley from Art of Death yet, I can see him in my mind like an photo in a yearbook.  I can see down to the shape of his chin, the amount of wave in his hair, the length of his sideburns, the way the shadows fall below his cheekbones.  I know his build and what he would wear.  I don't necessarily describe my characters in this much detail while writing, but it's always there in the back of my mind.

The more I write a character, the clearer the image in my head becomes.  I don't see supporting characters quite as clearly as the leads, and even the leads are unclear until I have a chance to get to know them.

Again because I'm an artist, I often sketch my characters just for the fun of it.  But ironically, the way I sketch them is almost never the way I picture them in my head.  When I work on a graphic novel, the characters have a distinct look, and it's my job to stay as consistent as possible.  But when I draw characters from my prose novels, they're likely to look different every time I draw them, depending on my mood at the time.

A good example of this is the cover for The Dragon Tamer.  The way I drew Aedan on the cover is not quite the way I picture him in my head.  This was deliberate; I wanted a powerful image for the cover with as much universal appeal as possible, so I adjusted his features accordingly.  I've drawn Aedan three times, and each of those times, he could have been an entirely different character.

I'd be curious to know how readers picture Drake from the Dragon Tamer.  His appearance is never described in the story.  It's inspiring to know, based on feedback so far, that readers didn't necessarily need a physical description in order to like him.

I may post drawings of my characters from time to time, but I don't consider my own drawings to carry any more truth or authenticity than fan art.  If I share my drawings, it's just for fun, not to inform anyone of how my characters "really" look.  The beauty of fiction is everyone can picture a character differently, and they can even change their minds from morning to evening.

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