Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How do you give your characters face and form?

IF. . .

   If you’re (1) female and (2) a senior citizen as I am, you’ve spent time sitting on the floor of your room cutting out paper dolls from old catalogues and magazines.  Ah, those were the days!
   If you grew up during the Golden Age of Hollywood, you wrote fan letters to your favorite movie stars and received a glossy, black-and-white, autographed photograph. Oh, go on and admit it!
   If you’re an author, you’ve struggled to bring vague images of your potential characters into full focus either before you start writing or somewhere in the process. Let’s face it--we can write down descriptions, but words just don’t cut it. We need to see a face--a figure--a three-dimensional person.

     Remember when magazines like Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Ladies Home Journal had 
monthly fiction features--or two or three? Most if not all of them were illustrated in some way, especially the “book-length” features which pictured the main characters with pencil sketches.  But those were big-money publications with photographers and graphic artists on staff. 

SO HOW DO I. . .
   So how do everyday writers with minimal budgets manage to bring their characters to life?
First, go back to writing down those words which I just told you don’t cut it. You’ve got to start somewhere. Jot down a vague (or specific) physical description, clothing style preference, even hand gestures, stances, and facial expressions.THEN

  • Go back to your childhood--scour magazines for pictures and cut them out. Perhaps a character will end up a composite of two or three images. With today's emphasis on glamour, it's difficult to find real-life people, but keep looking.
  • If you write historical/vintage fiction, go to the library and search for illustrated books from the particular era in which your book is set.
  • Go to the computer and call up images of people (famous, infamous, or otherwise!) from that era.
  • Check old (or recent) family photographs for features you “see” in your characters.
  • If you plan to make a video book trailer, go to one of the stock photo companies like Fotolia and iStock. They don’t break the bank, and in most cases, I’ve been able to find what I needed to illustrate both characters and settings

   When I first started writing “the great American novel” some 35-40 years ago--YES, the one I’ve never finished but plan to work on during my time at The Writers’ Colony in November--I searched magazines for pictures of the main characters--and found them. I still have them tucked away in a folder. I know them well, and their faces float in front of me as I add scenes to this unwritten paradigm of literary brilliance.  But my point is--I can call up those old magazine pictures as I write, and my characters live for me. And that’s what it’s all about!
   To some seasoned writers, this blog may seem overly-simplistic because it’s telling you what you already knew. Yes, you knew it--but do you do it? For new writers, I hope you click out of here and head straight for a source of images for your WIP. 
   Festoon your walls with them until you’re able to walk into your writing area and say, “Good morning, _________. How are you today, ________? You’ll never guess what I’ve got in store for you in this next chapter, __________!”
Think about this: If your characters aren’t real to you, they won’t be real to your readers either.

The photographs in this blog are stock photographs. Mention the name of one of my characters to me, and I can call up the image immediately. They’re not gone just because the book is published. They’ll live with me forever--as I hope your characters do with you, too!

Friday:  The Friday Five--Memorable Characters Who’ve Lived on in My Heart

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