"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Monday, October 1, 2012

Faceless Characters

A reader emailed to ask me what one of my characters looks like. (Jake from Broken Angel). I had provided physical details about my heroine, but not my hero. After giving it some thought, I had to admit that I wasn’t sure anymore.
My vision of a character changes as I write. I know how they think, what they feel, how they view the world, but their faces? That can change. You’ve all read something where a character may have green eyes in chapter one and brown in chapter 10. For one reason or another, the authors vision changes and we don’t catch it in rewrites.
My characters are like well-defined silhouettes. They don’t always have faces in the beginning.
Some “experts” will go on at length about how to develop physical profiles for your characters. They argue you must be extremely detailed to engage the reader; that you need to know the real vs. perceived age, eye color, if they wear glasses or contacts, hair color – real or dyed and length and style, weight, height, body build, skin tone and type, shape of face, distinguishing marks, predominant features, and if they appear healthy. They will also tell you to “use known actors or your own acquaintances as prototypes.”
Others will argue that you should only give vague descriptions like “beautiful eyes” or “great legs” because readers will assign their own faces to characters as they read - which will make the story more personal to them. If you describe dark eyes and hair, the reader may picture Ben Afleck, Clark Gable or even their own spouse.
Nancy Cohen recently wrote a post about the "Male Perspective" which raises some interesting points about how men and women approach writing characters based on the fact that we think differently.
Perhaps this is why so many of my characters are faceless. While I can appreciate a good looking man or woman in real life, that is not what I remember most about them. I remember names and conversations.
So which is the best way to write? No matter how you describe your characters in your story what’s most important to me as a reader is the character’s heart and soul. Sell me on those, and I’ll hang on your every word.
Which way do you write? What do you prefer as a reader?


Ann said...

I like to give some physical description, but more about their clothes, style, etc. I struggle more with the dialogue.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Most of my characters are faceless. I write quite sparsely, and too much description ruins the flow. As I reader, I find I create my own picture of the character and too much description ruins my idea of them.