October 28, 2013

What Do Your Characters Look Like?

Giacomo & Slick

Giacomo & Slick

What Do Your Characters Look Like?

Have you ever seen a movie where the characters look nothing like what you thought they would from the book? It’s a little disappointing isn’t it? And it makes it more difficult for that character to win the audience over if they start out with a negative. The question is whose fault is it? Did they cast the wrong person? Or did the author describe the character too much?

I have always subscribed to the theory that the less you explain when writing the better off you are. And I think this is especially true for characters. There are exceptions. If you’re describing a new world in a science fiction or fantasy book, or a new race of creatures, obviously you want to let the readers see what your imagination has conceived. But if the characters are human, and if the setting is standard, let your readers use their imagination.

Imagination Is A Powerful Tool

In this day and age, when movies on TV show what you could only see in X-rated theaters twenty years ago, and when even music videos allow nudity that would have banned all but adults in theaters, you’d think there would be more nudist camps. But there isn’t. Why? Because when people are naked there is nothing left to the imagination. I have a saying I try to live by when writing.

“Even perfection pales in comparison to what the mind can imagine.”

That is never so true as when someone is reading a book. One of the characters in my first book is a guy named Nicky Fusco. A lot of female readers seem to love him, but the funny thing is of the dozen or so I’ve spoken to about this, they all have a different image of what he looks like. I couldn’t have been happier to know this. I seldom describe my characters beyond a few minor details, and maybe a distinguishing feature. My main protagonist in the Friendship & Honor series, Frankie Donovan, has a birthmark on his neck. Connie Gianelli, the protag of my Blood Flows South series, has a crooked nose. Tip Denton, who is Connie’s partner, has a scar on his face. I discussed something similar in an earlier post about pretty characters.

I typically don’t mention how tall a character is, or how much they weigh, or if they have bulging muscles or anything like that. I try to let a character’s traits and personality define them. And by doing it that way, the readers use their own imagination to build either a hero/heroine, or a villain based on their perception of what that person should look like—in their mind. There’s nothing that can compete with that.

Masquerade ballHow Much Do You Describe Your Characters?

Many writers don’t take advantage of the most powerful tool in their arsenal—imagination. Whenever you get the urge to tell us how beautiful your characters are, or how perfect their nose is, or their body, or how enchanting the eyes are, down to the perfect shade of blue…stop! Don’t do it. Instead, try describing them enough to give the readers a hint, a clue, and then let their imaginations take over.

You don’t give readers all the clues of the mystery do you? Of course not. You want them to figure it out for themselves. The best part of Star Wars was imagining what the force was. Or imagining what Darth Vader looked like behind that mask. And how about the Phantom of the Opera? He wore a small mask, but our interest was piqued from other characters’ reactions, and the mystery of what he looked like.

Books Or Movies?

One of the reasons books are better than movies is because movies leave nothing to the imagination. They show you everything. And the new talent in Hollywood thinks that more sex or bigger special effects will solve that problem. It doesn’t.

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Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,




Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of:
No Mistakes Resumes
Murder Takes Time
Murder Has Consequences
A Bullet For Carlos
Finding Family

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

photo credit: Tracey Gill Miller via photopin cc

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