Thursday, July 10, 2008


Do you describe your characters when you write?

I'm on the fence about this. On the one hand, I hate it when I have an image in my mind of what a character looks like, say a tall but chubby blond with green eyes, and then the author throws in a description of that character as a short pixie-ish brunette with sparkling blue eyes. It throws me right out of the story. Usually this is off-set by a description of a character early on, such as Harry Potter with black hair, green eyes, and round glasses. I'll never picture him as anything else.

But there are still pitfalls to character description. For example, I never pictures Malfoy as the way Rowling described him. In my mind, despite her descriptions in text, he was dark and brooding (more like Krum). It wasn't until the movies that I even realized I'd supplanted the author's vision for my own. His character just didn't fit his description to me.

And what's more--if the main character is a girl who acts a bit like me...then I want to picture myself as the heroine. It drives me crazy when the physical description is nothing like what I had in my head.

To counter this, I purposefully did not describe the main character in my first two manuscripts. No one has ever commented about the lack of description on one of them, but many people have commented about the lack of description in the other. In fact, I had an agent reject that manuscript based entirely on the fact that he felt as if he didn't know the main character and he wrote specifically that a character description would have helped with that.

Do you give specific character descriptions? On the one hand, I can see the advantage: Harry Potter is an icon in part because of his description. On the other hand, sometimes it limits the reader's imagination. Where do you stand?


Jason said...

Ha! I love it. When I read Harry Potter, I didn't -- and still don't -- imagine the 1st Dumbledore that everyone said was perfect. I imagine Dumbledore like Merlin in the Disney version of The Sword in the Stone. He was immediately locked into place after he said his "few words." And for some reason I always imagined Hagrid sounded like Monterey Jack from Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers... can you tell I was a cartoon kid?

I think that character descriptions are good in manuscripts. In my opinion, they're good and do the job they're supposed to...however...if the reader wants to ignore the author's description and substitute another there's no stopping them. I've been guilty of it a few times, but I usually try to stick to their description. I never find it particularly jarring to find out I'm wrong.

Unknown said...

Heh, I totally get the Merlin image of Dumbledore!

TerriRainer said...

One example of characters that become larger than the author's visions, are Claire and Jamie from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. People have actually created videos and posted pictures of actors who they think should play them in a movie/tv mini series!

The author is doing a graphic novel, and when she posted the artist's drawing of Claire, SOOO many people commented that she looked nothing like THEY had pictured, even though the author said she had described her EXACTLY as the woman in the drawing she had posted.

I know I am also guilty of coming up with my own picture of a character in a book.

I do describe my characters, though usually from another's perspective, as if seeing them through someone else's eyes.

:) Terri

Unknown said...

What an interesting point, Terri...I know that Stephanie Meyers put up pics of actors she pictured as her characters (although she admitted it was just fantasy and had little role in picking the real actors in her movie). I've toyed with that for some (as I came up with the characters based on actors)...but I'd be hard pressed to come up with anyone for my heroine other than a pic of myself!