Giving face to characters

In discussing YsabetWordsmith‘s latest fishbowl, marina_bonomi asked:

Anyone else tries to give a face to the protagonists and antagonists in the material you read? Do you hear their voices instead? Both? neither?

This is actually a bit of an issue for me: I don’t picture people well, and certainly not faces. I’d have a hard time bringing to mind facial features of old, dear friends, much less fictional characters. Heck, I had no idea what Rin & Girey looked like for quite a while, and I only know what Autumn looks like because of her smile.

What I picture, for friends, for fictional characters, my own or others, for people I only know on the internet, is bits of body language, and sort of stand-alone body parts: Eseme’s hair. Wyst with a china cup of tea. Trix gets a screwdriver. it may be sonic. Brian’s hugs. Elasmo talking animatedly.

The curve of someone’s back. Their hands. Their expression. Their way of grumbling. The place I most often see them. But people? I don’t seem to picture people as a whole, at all, and I almost never picture /faces/.

What about you?

17 thoughts on “Giving face to characters

  1. You know, after giving it some thought, I think that I fall in where you are. I rarely see faces, but I have a sense of them. I know their postures and attitudes. I can see/feel their body language and I can hear their voices.

  2. I have the same faceless dilemma. The way characters identify themselves most in my head is their posture and mannerisms, sometimes their voice. There doesn’t tend to be a lot of physical description when I write beyond basic coloring (if I think of it) and build. The really interesting thing is that I don’t picture faces etc. for other people’s characters, either. I have trouble remembering details of appearance in fiction unless the character itself has properly gotten stuck in my head. I actually took advantage of my tendency towards no physical description in the beginning of the book I’m working on right now. B did exactly what I hoped when she read it and spent the first few thousand words thinking my narrator was a guy. ;D (YAY! I GET HAND TOOLS!)

    • Because I only thought of this after I posted: I actually have the same difficulty with MYSELF. The way I look in my head doesn’t really have anything to do with my face and so sometimes, I will actually look at a photograph of myself in mild bewilderment. A sort of, “wait, that is what I look like?” moment.

      • Me, too. The weightloss helped; I almost look like I think I look now, except I’m like 15 years older than my mental picture of myself.

    • New icon! I love writing things where the character’s gender is a complete wash for quite a bit of the story!

  3. I get voices always, hair sometimes, and other physical details at random when they seem relevant; faces are an effort, and one that’s generally conscious rather than spontaneous. For example, I have a general sense of what Trevor from the current project must look like, because of his ethnic group and age, but it’s more of a “…yeah, he’d probably look a little like So-And-So who’s from there” than any real sense of Trevor, if you see what I mean? I’m not technically faceblind, I’ve done tests, but I do seem to have some issues with processing them…

    • I almost never get spoken voice, although I get “voice;” the way in which they talk. I’ve figured out faces of characters as I ask for art or write descriptions of them, or from photoref, but I’m more likely to know what their hems look like than their faces.

  4. I get personality, and the way the character talks. For main characters, I get them and their issue or problem or a bit of the setting first. Then I have to think about what they look like. One main character did show up with a physical feature. Just one. He was complaining about his hair, and how it looked wrong. Secondary characters may show up in description first, only because the main character sees them so I work up a description of how they look first. But after that their personality is what matters and if I decide to go in and change their looks it isn’t a problem (for instance, Kee needs to get darker skin than I first described her with). Sometimes I cheat a bit and base their looks off a person I’ve seen – one character got the sort of looks someone I worked with had. The character doesn’t look just like her, but has her coloring and similar hair issues. I’m amused that I am hair to you, but not too surprised. It is my most unique feature, and unlike most people, you’ve seen it down. I think there are a lot of writers who are not extremely visual people. After all, we write instead of draw (though some are doubly talented).

    • “I think there are a lot of writers who are not extremely visual people.” That is a fantastic point, and one I hadn’t thought about! On thinking about it from that angle, it isn’t strictly true that I don’t see characters’ faces in my mind. I don’t see faces or much in the way of physical details for the characters for stories that are, or will be, prose. Novels, short stories. Some of my ideas, however, don’t come for a textual medium but rather a visual one. Comic or animation, to be specific. For these, it’s in fact quite the opposite. I can (and do) see how things look – the faces, the expressions, the poses, the clothing, the scenery, the movements. Those are far more frustrating, however, because I lack the skill to bring the images into existence and the psychic powers to put the images into the heads of those who do. /ramble

      • I should re-read my posts three times before submitting them, because I keep typing, rereading, posting, rereading, getting another thought and going DOH. It is an interesting observation that none of my mental images for characters are of realistic people, but are either conceptual sketches or literal sketches.

      • Sorry to be late. LJ’s email-me-comment-notifications system seems to be darn near dead. I am now very annoyed. I don’t do visual mediums at all really, so I just don’t get visuals at all. But it does not surprise me that you get them for visual mediums but not textual ones. Work on getting super-powers, and then broadcast your stories over the mental wavelengths! Cut out the internet entirely!

  5. My favorite mental image of me is gifted to me, by a friend I once had. “You’re the sort of person I always visual riding a unicorn in a white dress.” I have the dress in my closet, I’m just looking for the unicorn.

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