A couple of months ago, I got an email from a reader who asked, ‘what do your characters look like when you create them?’ She said she knew they were described in some detail but was troubled by the conversation with a friend as to who their favourite character resembled.
It’s an interesting question, I replied, but the story is written for you the reader and the characters are your own to develop however you imagine them to be.’ As I sat back, I wondered more about the question. It’s one I think many writers struggle with and so to deal with this, they too allow the reader to develop their own characters guided by a few brief descriptive lines, to help along the way. This formula works well for most readers, as literature is a private retreat. Most of us use fiction as a respite from the real world. Hence, the characters adopt our own embellished personalities, looks and voices.
A day later she wrote to me again and added. ‘My friend and I like the same character, but we see him differently. This is strange because we both agree on the same actor should it become a film on day. But my real question, I guess, is what do you, the creator of the story imagine these characters to look like?’
Now, this was a much better question. When I write, I see pictures in my head and the scenes are enacted as if in a film. I write the descriptive of what I see, embellish it later and then link it to the rollercoaster of a ride that make my stories. The characters are vivid in my head, so when I write, I give a teasing morsel to the reader, enough to spark their own imagination. I add a sprinkle of physical to help create the face and body and throw in a few selective lines that enrich the character’s personality. The rest is for the reader to elaborate on through their own imaginations. Give them too much and they are limited by the constraints and will certainly lose interest in the smoothness of the words. But, do I have my own perception of what they look like? Absolutely! I see them as if they stand before me. Their wry smile exposing a single black tooth. Their wrinkled green and cream chequered shirt. Their stubbled chin and high cheekbones offset by penetrating emerald blue eyes. It’s all there in technicolour in my imaginations.
But I digress, I responded to the puzzled fan with the long thought out reply. “I have given it much thought and decided to draw my characters as I see them. It will become an ongoing process over a few months where I release portraits of each villain, hero, bystander and practitioner in my story, as they appear to me. Don’t let this sway your own developments though as how we perceive them is what makes the story special to each of us.” And so it was. From that day forth, I drew a character a week and found much pleasure in letting the discussion flow around the contrasts and similarities everyone had developed, which actually enriches my capability to write from a more knowing perspective.