As I’ve said before, I am a dialogue person. For whatever reason, dialogue is more fun (and plainly easier) for me to write than pretty much anything else. Of course, for novels, narrative, description, and all of that fun stuff is just as important, so my biggest challenge has always been slowing down enough to be sure to write down just exactly how these things I’m seeing in my head actual look (since for some reason, readers aren’t yet able to see exactly what I’m seeing when I write without me actually writing descriptions…odd that).
Of course, when trying to write description, it’s important to have a clear picture of characters and places in your head. There are only so many times you can give a character blond/brown/red hair and blue/brown/green eyes before even your own characters begin to lose shape in your head. When asked a while ago what a character from a book I wrote years ago looked like, I admit even I couldn’t remember. Not generally a good sign.
So while some characters might spring to mind very clearly, what do you do when you come up to a roadblock as to what a character looks like other than tall/short/average with X hair and X eyes?
I’m sure there are a number of solutions people have come up with, but mine, personally, is simple: Look at people. While the first things you might use to describe someone in real life might be the same things you already had for a character (height, weight, coloring) studying a face, a real face, will give you a better picture in your head as to what actually makes a person rather than a person-shaped blob (am I the only one with blobby characters to start with? maybe?)
As for finding faces for inspiration, there are three different ways to generally go about it:
1. Watch people around you. Assuming you don’t live in some remote cabin/underground/in the Australian outback, most people come into regular contact with other humans on a day-to-day basis. By watching the people you interact with, it’s possible to start compiling features that shape your character. The man at the bakery’s hair, the girl on the metro’s chin, looking at what makes a person unique will help you move past X hair and X eyes. Of course, the downside to this can be the creepy factor. Staring at someone next to you at the bank will no doubt make you look odd/suspicious. “I’m a writer” only works so many times as an excuse.
2. Look at celebrities. Since staring at people on the street can get you weird looks, a lot of my writer friends prefer this route. After all, you’re supposed to stare at TV and Movie stars for long chunks of time. Some writers even prefer to “cast” their novel as they go along (Jane would be played by Jennifer Lawrence, Sam by Ryan Reynolds, etc. etc.) By picturing the “movie” version of your novel, it makes it really simple get more about your characters than just hair and eye color (and can serve as some good motivation to keep going when you hit a crisis of confidence–who wouldn’t want to see their story on the big screen?). While I do use this tactic from time to time (one of the characters in my WIP would totally be Darren Criss in my head…) I personally find I still can’t use this solution that often. While you have more of a chance to study celebrities than people in your every day life, you also have more of a chance to get used to their personality (or at least the personality you see on camera). While you might not have meant it to be, basing a character off how Natalie Portman looks in Black Swan might end up giving you a character slightly more psychotic than you originally intended–simply because you start writing that character, not your own.
3. Use Google Image Search to look up headshots. And so we get to my personal favorite solution when it comes to finding faces for characters–using Google Images to look up pictures of random people. While you might still have a little bit of the creep factor (staring at random people online…? Okay…?) it isn’t quite as bad as staring at people on the street. And while you can spend a long time studying the picture, you don’t also know who the person is and have that coloring your perception (added bonus, you can also find much more “average” people in these kinds of headshots than you can in Hollywood. Not everyone wants the “nerd” in their story to look like Rachel Weisz in glasses). To use this method, you can just go to images.google.com, type in what you’re looking for (headshot girl red hair, headshot old man) and you will come up with pages of faces to look at without looking like a creep to anyone but the people at Google recording your searches (but if you’re a writer, they probably already think you’re a druggy serial killer based on those searches anyway, so who really cares?)
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