The Writing Life,  Writing in General

Do I know you?

As a writer, I have to know my characters. That means preparing a character sketch. For instance, for my hero, I’ll decide things such as what he wants most, conflict, motivation, his background, family, friends, religion, etc. I’ll also include an idea of what he looks like.

It’s more than just hair and eye color. A writer “sees” that character in her head, or generally in my case, a blurry vision of him. (Honestly, sometimes it’s like taking my glasses off and trying to get a clear picture of the person fifteen feet away.) Sometimes, we’ll find photos of people—models, actors—who match our descriptions. Or, we’ll base our character’s look on a certain person we know.

When I began writing my novel A Lady Divided (working title), I didn’t have a real human being in mind to use as the basis for my hero’s appearance. Even so, I could see Quinn Spencer. I knew his hair color, the texture, and the style. I also saw his facial shape and build, along with his eye color. I saw him move. The details were a little fuzzy, and although I didn’t have a photograph to go by, I knew I’d recognize that man if I ever met him…so to speak.

One night, while engrossed in watching a syndicated episode of Numbers, I froze as my gaze centered on one particular actor. How had I missed it? How could I have watched for months without putting two and two together? There, on the screen, was my Quinn in living, moving color!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced that kind of moment. Maybe, as a reader, you’ve come across that too—seeing someone somewhere and recognizing a particular character.

As you read a novel, do you get a picture in your head of the character? How do you decide what they look like if the writer doesn’t get highly descriptive? Do you like to have in-depth details of the hero/heroine’s description, or sketchy details so you can form your own mind picture? Do you base your image on someone real?

(On Pinterest, I have a board with photos of people who resemble some of my characters, and will add more as I find them. Check out the link to see my idea of the perfect actor to play Quinn Spencer in the movie. :-))

As an author of heartwarming historical and contemporary romance, Sandra Ardoin engages readers with page-turning stories of love and faith. Rarely out of reach of a book, she's also an armchair sports enthusiast, country music listener, and seldom says no to eating out.

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  • Barbara Hartzler

    I know what you mean. I saw an episode of Flashpoint with a dark-haired kid with aqua eyes and knew it was my teen hero! I had thought about changing my character’s description, because who looks like that and then–bam! there he was.

    At ACFW Karen Ball suggested having a cup of coffee with your character and going through a character sheet to get to know them. Since I love coffee, I really loved that idea! 🙂

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