Characters, Fiction, Tips, Writing

How well do you visualize your characters?

The idea for my current novel came from a dream, so I had a visual of my main character Jalal from the start. In general, I first see my characters as a type and then I picture someone, usually a celebrity, who fits the type. I’ve visualized my character Meredith as three different actresses and now, she’s a sort of combination of all three. My character Renee started out tall and blonde, but when her backstory changed, so did her appearance.

blurfaceYesterday, in my blog comments, Susan Bearman lamented that she hasn’t been able to “see” her main character. On her own blog, she’s described his hair, eyes, smile, hands, and yet she feels his face is fuzzy. She concluded she’s not a “visual thinker.”

I’m a portrait artist, so I’m very “face oriented” and don’t think I could write about my characters, if I had no mental pictures of them. I need to see the details, not only of their faces, but of their clothes, homes, cars, places of work, places they shop, what they eat, etcetera, even though most of these details don’t factor into the story. I have to believe my characters exist, on some level, to write about them convincingly.

Maybe I’m obsessed. Maybe I’m insane. Tell me, if you write fiction, how much effort do you put into visualizing your characters and their world?

11 thoughts on “How well do you visualize your characters?”

  1. Hi, and thanks for the shout out, Linda. For me, a character’s voice is the stamp that sets him or her apart, and I think I’m pretty good at writing distinct voices. I loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible and how I could tell in one or two lines which character was narrating the chapter.

    That being said, I was curious as to whether I would recognize my characters if I met them on the street, so I had a blast looking around on stock photo websites, Google Images and Flickr for people that I thought looked like my characters. I would use key words from my text to see what images were generated by my words. I was thrilled to find every one of the major characters. Even better, when I showed the pictures to a few of my readers (without giving them a clue what I was doing), they all identified the photos as my characters.

    This was a fun, creative exercise — inspired by your magnificent image of Jalal — and now I have these pictures posted by my computer for sensory details to include in my rewrites.


    1. That’s an interesting way to find a visual for your characters. For me, having the images, doesn’t mean I fill my work with a paragraph of eye and hair color, but with a visual I also get a sense of their gestures, speech, habits .and all the other details that make them come alive on the page.


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