May 4, 2012

How do you "see" characters when you're reading?

By Leah Ashton

Sophie and Dan!
Recently I received my author copies for two books - my standalone release of my debut novel, Secrets & Speed Dating, and my second release, A Girl Less Ordinary. In both the UK and Australia, Secrets & Speed Dating came out as part of an anthology, so up until now I've shared my covers with other authors, and the people on the cover were definitely *not* my Dan and Sophie!

So (in addition to running around the house in excitement about seeing my own book for the first time) I of course had to consider - do the people on my own covers look like Dan, Sophie, Jake and Ella?

I know a lot of authors find celebrities for inspiration for their characters' appearance, and I've kind of done that - but then tend to instantly forget who I chose. In fact, I realised that as I write - and also as I read - I don't have a perfect photographic image of the hero and heroine in my head.

Ella (and some cute
guy who isn't Jake :) )
What I have instead is more of a sense of them, and that is mostly based on who the are, rather than what they look like. Yes, I know what colour hair or eyes they have, and their mannerisms, but there is still a fuzziness. When I read as well I'm not seeing them, but I'm certainly imagining what it would be like to meet them.

That sounds very airy-fairy, doesn't it!

So I was wondering, am I missing out? When you read (or write) do you see the characters in crystal clear technicolour? Or is it something else?

And then to add a bit contradiction to all of this, when I did see my covers, I knew that was Sophie and Dan in the gazebo, and that while that was Ella on the couch - that was not my Jake! (although he is very, very cute!). So maybe I do have more of a clue what's going in my subconscious than I thought... or quite possibly, not!


  1. I can't add anything sensible to this discussion, Leah. I'm like you, I see them but not clearly...although heaven help us if the cover or person in the movie, is wrong!! :)

    I'm glad someone else has a vague image of what's right, but a strong image of what's not!


  2. Me too! As reader and writer My image is more of the kind of person they are. I know what they look like, but details only come out when they are story-relevant.

  3. Hi Leah,

    What a gorgeous cover you've got for 'Secrets and Speed Dating' in particular! No wonder you're smiling.

    I'm like you, I think. I don't usually have the image of an actor's face, for instance, in my head as I write. Occasionally I've done that in a scene but it was more about the character's attitude and the way they moved. My characters are oh so real but I tend not to focus on the specifics of their features too much, except when their expression changes or gives a window into what they're feeling. Like you I have the hair and eye colour and general look but the rest is a little more vague. However, I know when I see them on the cover and when I don't. Funny, isn't it?

  4. When I am reading I get a hazy image of the character from the author's description. I don't imagine celebrities at all. The cover image never matches up to what I see in my minds eye.

    A vague image works well for me.

  5. I'm like you, Leah. I have a sense of my characters as I write them, believing that readers will fill in the details to suit themselves. I can't work with pictures.
    When I read I build my own picture of characters with some input from the author and some from me.

  6. I always know what my characters look like physically, Leah, but I never like to spend too much time describing them on the page. When I read a romance I like enough left to the imagination so I can create my favourite prototype of a hero and heroine -- so I try to extend the same courtesy to my readers. :-)

    Oh, and let me just say -- Ella's dress is divine!

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  8. Cath - I'm so glad I'm not the only vague one!

    Imelda - Yeah, exactly! Although for me this means I have to go back and remind myself what colour eyes my heroine has etc. I know, terrible!

    Annie - Isn't that cover amazing? I am so lucky. Even better it's the final scene in the book, and the clothes etc are spot on. My only slight quibble is that the surroundings don't look all that Australian :)

  9. I think a vague idea is what I have when I read. I don't like it if the cover hasn't the right color hair on either the hero or heroine. I just love the cover for Secrets and Speed Dating.

  10. Marybelle - Yes, I think the celebrity thing doesn't work for me as I don't imagine my characters as quite as perfect-looking as celebrities. In my current book, my heroine is supposed to look like Michelle Williams - but basically she has the hair, and that's it :)

    Sue - Yes, I do that too I think when I read - I don't really want the author to tell me exactly how the hero and heroine looks. I want space for my imagination to work :) I've read books before where the hero has been described as looking exactly like "famous person", and that's really pulled me out of the story, as I wasn't thinking that at all!

    Michelle - Isn't it lovely! Pity it's not in the book, although elements of the dress/wallpaper are from a key scene. Would love to go back and re-describe the dress she wore so it matches that dress exactly.

  11. Oh Kaelee, I almost missed you :)

    Jake doesn't wear glasses, or ties, so that's why the Riva cover was a bit "off" for him. Although it definitely conveys "geek" which he is, so that's good news :)

    I'd be really disappointed if hair colour was wrong on a cover!

  12. Leah, I don't see them that clearly either - when I read or write. I do use celebrity pictures in my book collages, but the character doesn't always look exactly like them. In Million-Dollar Amnesia Scandal I had a photo on my board of Lindsay Lohan looking great because my heroine, April, had hair like hers. I also had a photo of Diana Krall because April's spirit felt like her. But in terms of facial features, April didn't really look like either.

    Interesting discussion!