Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Do You Know What Your Characters Look Like?

Do you picture your characters and settings when you write?

It may sound like a silly question, but I’m honestly curious. When I write, I don’t spend much time painting settings and describing characters. I try to include as much visual imagery as is necessary, but not much more than that.

You see, when I write, I hear my characters. I know what they sound like, how their voices modulate, whether anger makes their speech speed up or drawl, etc. But I often don’t know what my characters look like. Sometimes I focus on one physical feature (for example, the soldier called “Bristle Hair” in Secret of the Lost Settlement), and I have a sense of weight, height, etc., but not a crystal-clear picture.

Perhaps that’s because I can’t draw. Seriously, I can’t even draw good stick figures.

Is there anyone else who doesn’t spend much time actually looking at their characters in their minds’ eye? And if you do know what your characters look like, do you keep it inside or do you sketch them?

John J. Horn is a Christian author from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at


  1. I do picture my characters, down to the last detail. The scenes of my stories and the characters all play inside my head like a movie. I'm also terrible at drawing, so I keep everything inside and just pull a picture from my memory bank whenever I need it.

  2. I do picture my characters very clearly. But I cannot draw much unless given instructions, so I keep it all inside.

  3. I always know in extreme detail what my characters look like! Pinterest is very helpful for this. I look around for period correct people and pin them to my writing board. That way, I have a clear image to paint my descriptions around.

  4. It sounds like I'm in the minority so far. Of course, the one advantage to not visualizing characters is that it's easier to accept the models that publishers use for cover art.

  5. I know what some of them look like, but I am not specific enough in my knowledge to be able to draw them. In general, I have hair color, eye color, build, or something vague in the descriptions. :) Just enough detail to help the reader and make life hard on me when I go back to edit and try to remember who looked like what.

  6. Great post, and interesting comments!

    Visualizing takes a very conscious effort on my part, although I love drawing. (Is that another minority?) I don't easily "see" the characters as I write, and my descriptions have tended to be general. E.g. Phil Baker: Sandy hair, honest face. What always surprises me is that when I show my sketches of Phil, readers say that's exactly how they pictured him!

    I've been working towards being more specific with characters and locations, but it's nice to know that there are others who don't naturally think in Technicolour.

  7. John, I can completely relate! I definitely hear my characters and "see" their movements, but I really only have a fairly vague idea of what they look like while I'm writing. I just suppose the actions and dialogue seems more important to me "in-the-moment" than what they look like.


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