When I read, I create a mental image of the characters that often goes beyond what the author tells me they look like. My own experiences lead me to connect them in some way to people I've known, so they become in a way "real" people. It's interesting to speculate on how I reach those conclusions, but an author needs to do more.

We can't depend on Hollywood, of course, since stars are put into roles with little regard for whether they look the way the author has described them. Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan, Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt, and John Wayne as Genghis Khan are prime examples.

Ask a friend who's read the same book for a detailed physical description and see how much variance there is between your mental image and his. You won't need to include every detail since the reader will supply his own, but it's a good exercise to prepare for describing your own characters, broadening the scope from just what you "see" and rounding out the people who inhabit your own work.

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Comment by Dana King on March 26, 2009 at 2:54am
That's an excellent point, Ingrid. I think I tend to do that, but without a good reason for doing so. This makes a lot of sense. Thanks.
Comment by I. J. Parker on March 26, 2009 at 1:34am
It depends on the character. Minor characters need some description. POV characters need to be bland in appearance to allow the reader to identify.
Comment by J. F. Juzwik on March 26, 2009 at 1:00am
That's so true. If the author gives me just enough, while I'm reading the story, I have a picture in my mind of the characters, and it does make the story much more interesting. If the descriptions are vague, and unfortunately, some authors really don't give you much; they focus more on what's in the character's head, I can picture nothing and I lose interest. Strange. When I write my characters, I have a picture in my mind of not just their appearance, but what they look like when they're doing this or that or saying this or that. That is very important because that's what pulls the reader in and holds them.
Comment by Dana King on March 25, 2009 at 11:13pm
I also come up with images of the characters that may not agree with what the author described, except in gross generalizations. (Man or woman, tall or short, hair color.) I often go another step, in that I can't always describe the image I have, because i don't always "see" a person; it's more of a mental impression I have. I have a general body type in mind for Dave Robicheaux, but not a face, though Tommy Lee Jones matched up well with my image in IN THE ELECTRIC MIST. Same with Elvis Cole ro Jack Reacher. No faces, just a general physcial impression.

Kind of Zen for so early in the morning. I might need more tea.

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