Investigated – How do you picture characters?

Posted October 20, 2014 by Emily in Investigated / 8 Comments


Today’s topic is kind of like the beginning of my first YA in Real Life post that will hopefully be up later this week. Anyways, the question is how do you picture characters?

Character Descriptions in Books

I think a lot of character descriptions can imply different things to different people. One key word that will make me have a certain picture of a character might make someone else picture the character in a different way. For example, when a character is described as having a “caramel skin tone” makes me infer that the character is of African descent. However, that same description might make someone else think that the character is really tan. I guess that’s why people always agree to disagree over casting choices when books are being adapted into movies.

But besides being a bit… vague at times, I primarily use the character descriptions the author provides to formulate a picture of a character. Which can be a problem because apart from being vague, another issue with character descriptions that I sometimes run into is overload of unnecessary information. Sometimes I feel like the information about how this character looks just keeps coming and won’t stop. I don’t need to know that the character has exactly five rosy red freckles in the corner of her right eye and three, 2 cm apart each, on her nose. I did not need to know all of that, especially if her freckles aren’t an important part of her description. The annoying part with this, besides being really boring and annoying to read is that sometimes it’ll make me miss some of the important little details. Or even worse, make me not care about them. I already have trouble keeping certain details in my head with nice short descriptions woven into the story, but I really can’t keep track of all the details when they just keep coming.

Personal Inferences

I kind of mentioned this before… it’s one of the problems with vague descriptions – they allow people to infer different things. I tend to infer certain things based of my experience and what I know. For example, if a character has the last name of Lee, I automatically picture her as Asian, because in my experience, a person with that last name is of Korean or Chinese / Taiwanese descent. However, to someone else, they might picture that same character as of English descent because in their experience, people with that last name are the same race as Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general in the American Civil War.

Sometimes, I also tend to picture characters as faceless for some reason, if their faces aren’t really described. I mean I know they have a face, but it is blurry, like when you try to look at something through fogged up glasses. In all honestly, I do tend to picture characters as silhouettes wearing the clothes described while I’m reading. It’s only until after, when I try to replay the movie created by the book in my head, that I start adding details to them. For me this is helpful in trying to avoid the stereotypes associated with certain appearances. If I’m able to dismiss a character’s blonde hair (unless it’s an important part of her, for example, Annabeth from Percy Jackson wouldn’t be the same if she wasn’t blonde), then I can avoid labeling the character as dumb blonde right away and wait until more is revealed about her to judge her. Because honestly, unless the physical description of a character is important to the story (is a metaphor like Augustus’ eyes in TFiOS, is about overcoming stereotypes like Annabeth in Percy Jackson, etc), the appearance of the character doesn’t really matter. What matters is their personalities.

What about you?
How do you picture characters?



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8 responses to “Investigated – How do you picture characters?

    • So base their appearance off their actions? I guess I kind of do that too. It’s hard not when you don’t have anything else to go on.

      Thanks for stopping by Elizabeth! 🙂

  1. Just like you, I tend to associate the characters with my experiences as well as imagining characters, but not really their faces.To me ‘sharp features’ and ‘chiselled’ jawline are not sufficient explanations to do so. Moreover, I’m prone to forget the details like eye and hair color. I used to think Jace had brown hair until the movie came out!

    • I’ve messed up what others consider “key” characteristics before because I just forgot / didn’t pay attention to the details. Unless it’s important to who the character is, I don’t really care about those details.

      Thanks for stopping by Cassidie! 🙂