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Book-Talk Monday: Seeing Characters When Reading

Monday, March 26, 2012

Those who’ve been following me for a while know that I cannot write without “casting” my characters—I rely (maybe a little too much?) on the Real World Templates I choose for my characters for inspiration as well as for consistency in how I describe them in the pages of my books. When I’m writing, because of these templates, the characters are as clear to me as actors on a movie screen.

Not so when I read. Unless it’s something like the Harry Potter series or Lord of the Rings in which I’m at least as familiar (HP) or more familiar (LOTR) with the films and the actors portraying the characters as I am with the books, and then I can picture them clearly as I read. It was becoming familiar with the images of the actors portraying the main characters in the Game of Thrones TV series—from seeing them online, since I didn’t have access to watch the show at that point—that allowed me to get past all the unusual names, backstory, and political/historical worldbuilding and enjoy the story of the first book (though I won’t be reading further, I’ve decided, after reading the summaries of books 2-5 on Wikipedia and learning that the story goes nowhere except destruction for most of those characters). However, even though I’ve been seeing plenty of pictures and trailers for The Hunger Games for the past several months, I stopped about halfway through reading it to look up the cast on IMDb.com to see if they looked anything like how I’d been picturing them in my head—and most of them didn’t, not even the main characters, whom I thought I was picturing from the trailers/posters/publicity stills.

In fact, most of the time when I’m reading, I don’t see the characters clearly “as” anyone—I don’t “cast” them in my head. They’re more like dream figures—I know they’re there and in my mind’s eye, I recognize them as the different characters (if the author has done her job well in describing them, that is), but if I were to sit down with a sketch artist and try to describe what they look like, I probably couldn’t do it. This is especially true of the main character in books written in first person.

If pressed, I could cast the characters in my favorite books with actors and actresses from the database I use for my writing without too much trouble—but only going by the physical descriptions the authors have provided, not because I’m seeing those actors in my head.

Do you clearly visualize characters as you read? Can you “see” them in your head? Do you “cast” them as familiar actors/actresses to make the story come even more fully to life in your imagination?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. ausjenny permalink
    Monday, March 26, 2012 5:13 am

    I have to say i am like you when reading If asked to describe the character I would be hard pressed. I dont have a picture in my mind although I would know them if I was in the book. To be honest half the time I couldn’t even tell you what colour hair they had etc. The latest book I know he has electric blue eyes only cos its been mentioned so many times. I often see blogs where they have cast the hero and heroine and I would never have picked them as those people.

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  2. Sherrinda permalink
    Monday, March 26, 2012 6:09 am

    You know, I would have said yes, but then the more I thought about it, the more I think the characters in my head are “blurred”…like the dream characters you talked about. I wonder…does it matter when you are writing? Does it affect what I write if the images are a little blurry?

    Food for thought today. (I don’t usually think much on Mondays!)

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  3. Monday, March 26, 2012 8:11 am

    Many times I do end up casting characters as I read — or the leads, at least, end up pretty concretely visualized in my imagination.

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  4. Sarah Richmond permalink
    Monday, March 26, 2012 11:27 am

    I would like Nancy Drew.

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  5. A foolish one permalink
    Monday, March 26, 2012 12:09 pm

    Casting characters is a good idea. I am more interested in the action than what the characters look like. Sometimes they remind me of actual people I know. Sometimes that is good and other times bad. In the Pride and Prejudice, I dont like the one with Keri as well as the previous film. Sadly they keep showing the latest version which diverts too much from the book and that is hard for me to accept. The actor for Mr. Darcy is better in the first version. For me in the Keri version Darcy is a flat character.

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  6. Regina permalink
    Monday, March 26, 2012 1:11 pm

    I’m like you, Kaye. I HAVE to cast characters I’m writing, because otherwise I don’t feel that I can connect with them. Reading, on the other hand, I don’t have to “see” them to know them. Weird. I honestly never thought about it that much.

    And to “A foolish one,” Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy will ALWAYS be my ideal Mr. Darcy. 🙂 I refuse to even watch the shorter, movie-version . . . .

    Now I need to go look up those actors in Hunger Games on IMDB, to see if they fit, for me!

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  7. Abigail Richmond permalink
    Monday, March 26, 2012 1:55 pm

    Yes I do visualize them in my head.

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  8. Ann Street permalink
    Monday, March 26, 2012 6:26 pm

    Yes, I do visualize them in my head. Sometimes what I visualize in my head is way different than the picture on the cover.

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  9. JamaGenie permalink
    Wednesday, March 28, 2012 5:39 am

    Yes, I visualize characters while reading fiction, but haven’t read fiction lately, only biographies. So the Mitford Years-Father Tim novels are when I last had to visualize characters. Not difficult since Jan Karon describes most of them in such detail, perhaps why they’re rarely pictured anywhere in the books. But the few times they are, they look much like I see them in my mind.

    Depictions of Emily Brightwell’s Mrs. Jeffries on the covers of that series, however, make me wonder if Ms. Brightwell and the artist ever consult. She never looks anything like how she’s described in the stories, which is in her mid-forties with auburn hair with only a few hint of gray. But the covers always show her mid to late sixties and totally gray. Her employer, Inspector Witherspoon, doesn’t fare much better under the artist’s brush. Very disconcerting.

    In my own stories, I never “see” the characters well enough to describe them in detail. Does that mean I suffer from “characters block”? ;D

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