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  1. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Readers don't see my characters the way I do...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Beth, Feb 22, 2008.

    Hi all,

    I was talking with 2 of my "proof readers" last night, one is my husband and the other is a friend. Just for fun we were choosing through famous actors to play my book's characters if it had to become a movie. The fact is... everyone I came up with, they did not agree. For Michelle, I proposed a blonde straight-haired actress (they're national stars so I won't name them). My husband said he doesn't visualize Michelle with straight hair (he still sees her blonde though). Our friend can imagine her straight hair but not the colour... :rolleyes:

    This happened with 2 more characters. Even though I briefly described them and as for Michelle I reminded the reader a couple of times about how she looks like (the chemist looked over her blonde head)...

    Now, the fact is that both my husband and my friend have a clear idea of the characters' attitude and behaviour..

    Do you think that's enough or should I insist more on the physical side? Does that mean I've been bad at descriptions? (which I don't like to dwell on too much cause I consider them boring and useless if they don't add some real meaning to the story).

    Hope you understand what I mean. Sorry if my English is not so fluent.

    :)
     
  2. (Mark)
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    (Mark) Contributing Member

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    It doesn't hurt to give your main characters a couple of paragraphs of physical description. Some writers like to stray away from that, but if it's important to you to have the reader visualize the character the way you do, I think a physical description is your only choice. Well, you could also draw them and put them in the book, but I doubt that's what you want.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I see no problem with the reader building his or her own image of the character. In fact, I encourage that, and tend to only describe what I need to in order to give the reader a good starting point, and to provide details that may be important to the story.

    For example, in a short story I wrote, a mysterious and fascinating woman in a dream was not described apart from dark hair, a blue dress, and startlingly blue eyes. The eyes were important to the ending, and the other two details were only there to help set a sultry mood. That way, the character will take on a look attractive to the reader.

    Sometimes, less really is more.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    cog is right on the mark here... most successful fiction writers give only a general idea of their characters' appearance and let the readers fill in the details, so they can feel they 'know' the characters... being too rigid in your description is a big mistake, imo, unless the details you provide are vital to the plot, such as a distinctive scar, a twisted leg, a cast to one eye, and so forth...

    same goes for what they're wearing... too much trivial detail there gets in the way of the story, so should also be kept to an effective minimum... in almost all cases, less IS more!

    hugs, maia
     
  5. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Beth,

    Not much to add beyond what Cogito and Mammamaia had to say about physical looks of characters.

    I think you'll find that readers will also read/see other things such as motivations, reasons for reactions to events differently than you might...and different readers will not agree 100%. That's okay. It means that there is depth to the characters instead of being shallow/cookie-cutter types.

    Every reader will bring a different set of experiences and insights to reading your stories, just as they do others. This influences not only how they view and make sense of the real world, but also how they will view the world and characters you've created.

    If everyone came out with the exact same descriptions and the exact same motivations and the exact same reasons for reactions to events 100% every time, I'd be more inclined to suggest as an author, you'd be writing in too controlling of a manner, now allowing any freedom of imagination to the reader. Most often that is a recipe for turning off readers more than entertaining them.

    Terry
     
  6. writiki
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    writiki Member

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    I think any writing that works the readers' imaginations has great potential.
     
  7. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Yeah those are all good points. And actually I too think that what really matters about a character is their behaviour more than their looks. What they do and what they think (and I'm sure I've worked a lot on that more than on descriptions).

    For example, returning to Michelle, I think it's very clear that she is a young nice looking female, and she will never be mistaken for someone else. So I think that's what counts more.
     
  8. Alexa
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    Alexa Member

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    I think when you write you have this certain image in your head of who your character is, because you are the one writing it. You know their behaviors, and that sort of factors in with the image of who your character is to you.

    So when other people read it, it's possible that they don't get the exact same image that you do when writing it.

    I say there's nothing wrong with writing up some more physical description of this character (I have to do that sometimes myself) but if you yourself know this character then that is really what matters the most.

    I was actually trying to look for a certain actresses/model or someone who would look exactly like how I picture one of my characters in my story..but it's impossible. There's no one that fits up to the description of what I made her into..with her attributes, behaviors and characteristics..for me there will never be anyone perfect for that character.
     
  9. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Also because it would be so boring to describe a character to meaningless detail only to have the reader visualize them as you do.
    What happens is that with a quick description our mind tends to look for some real person we know who has similar features, so we complete the character's gaps with details borrowed from that person we know.

    What do you think about that?
     
  10. Alexa
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    Alexa Member

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    Exactly yes, or in my case I'll even use a television/movie character to complete that character..because most of the time the similarities are there.

    I was at a LJ community today and came across this question, which brought me back to this thread. So I thought I'd post it here


    For me, I think it depends on the story itself. I personally would rather not have a full two page description of this one character but instead slip in the description throughout the story of course without breaking the flow of it. Those are usually the books I tend to read and I find that goes great..because you learn more about the character as you read, but while you are getting the whole plot in as well.
    And also it's the writers decision, it's how they want to write and if it works a certain way for them that's the way they should do it.
     
  11. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I write a piece I know my characters inside and out to the lst nitty gritty detail. The length of their finger nails etc.
    But when I write a story, I don't put all that information in. It is just how I like to work is all. I find it easier to write that way. But I still would rather my readers to be able to come up with their own idea of what the character looks like.
    I think that is one of the best parts about reading. Being able to visualize for yourself what a character in a book looks like.
    I've sat with many friends and we've discussed what we think a character would like like in certain books we have all read and neither of us have ever had the same vizualisation. It just shows our individuality. If all our minds and imaginations were the same then it would make life rather boring.
    It's good that you can all see the character differently, it shows that as a writer you are doing a good job at getting your readers to use their imagination. Don't see it as a bad thing, it is a great thing. :)
     
  12. Bronze
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    When I read an Alex Cross book for the first time (Roses are Red), It was not revealed that he was black untill several chapters in (although people who read the Cross books in cronological order might have known better) I had always visualized him as a white guy so it difficult for me adjust to a new image for him and his family.

    What is the point I'm trying to make? I'm not sure but it may be don't leave too much to the imagination, you might reveal something later in the book that conflicts with the readers imagination and it's somewhat frusterating as the reader in that position.
     

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