I don’t know how it works for anyone else, but when I’m reading a book, I form an image of a character rather quickly. And that image can be based on any number of things. Usually there is some description in the book, but more often than not, what I’m picturing in my head is based on a character’s personality, attitude, or even the things that they say and how they say them. Physical descriptors like eye color, hair color, height, or the shape of a character’s face, are just there to tweak that image, if they have any impact at all.
Are you confused yet?
Okay, this is how it works for me, and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. When I read a book, I liken the characters to people I know. This is where the personality traits come in. If a character reminds me of someone I know, that’s how I’m going to picture him, regardless of how the author describes that character. Sometimes this will cause a little hiccup for me if I’m reading and come to a physical descriptor that doesn’t match that image, but I’ve gotten used to it. Usually, I’ll just ignore the descriptor.
What?! But that’s not what the author intended for you to picture! Um, I don’t care. They’ll get over it, I’m sure. I know it wouldn’t bother me, if I was the author. (That’s has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?)
Can you keep a secret? I have a character in my book that has no physical description whatsoever and no one has ever noticed it. Not one single critter or beta reader. Can you guess why?
The why is actually pretty simple—they can relate the character to someone in their own life. And I think that makes that character more personal to them. Okay, so I don’t know any of this for certain, and maybe my critters and beta readers are just being nice, but it makes sense to me.
Let’s take Edward from TWILIGHT as an example, only because most of us have read it, and there’s a movie to see what he really looks like. Well, sort of. Just bear with me, folks.
When I read TWILIGHT and all the descriptions of Edward’s beauty and blah, blah, blah, I didn't picture Robert Pattinson or anyone resembling Robert Pattinson. But Stephenie Meyer said on her website that she could picture him as Edward. She would be the expert on what he looks like, after all. Besides that, thousands of screaming girls have solidified his “hotness”, so who cares what I think, right?
So, what does this tell us?
Different people have different ideas of beauty, and different ideas of ugliness, to be fair. So why would I put a long, drawn out description of how beautiful a character is, complete with head-to-toe details, when I know that not everyone is going to have the same idea of beautiful? Why not just put in a few key descriptors, give him the hottest personality ever, and leave the rest to the imagination?
See, this rambling mess led to a point. I knew I’d get there eventually.
So, what do you all think? Do we need a super detailed description of a character to create an image, or is it better to let that image form based on the character’s, um, character?