But anyway. I’m perusing. My brain is a bit dead from staring at the screen so long, and I’ve been seeing all sorts of photos that inspire me for stories I’m writing or have yet to write, and then I stumble across this photo.
And it stops me dead. Right away, I’m like, I know this girl. I’ve written about this girl before. Who on earth is this girl?
I knew she wasn’t from Shutterbug, because the girl in Shutterbug is more vulnerable and pale and lost feeling, and you can tell this girl is confident. She wasn’t from any of the short stories I’d been working on lately. She wasn’t from the two other novel projects I’ve been kicking around in my head for a long time. My brain was going nuts at this point, dredging up old stories and half-baked ideas to try and identify who this girl was, and where the heck did I know her from?
Then it finally hit me. This girl was Aria. Aria, the main character from MIRRORPASS. This was a startling realization. In MIRRORPASS, Aria never once has hair past her chin. She suffers some bad burns during her fall, which leaves her with subsequent scarring, bandages, and hair loss. She spends most of the novel growing her hair into a short, sharp bob. She looks like a punk. A kick-butt punk with wings.
And I had no problem describing Aria like that. The scars were fun emotional tools to play with when Aria was struggling to communicate and trust others. The spiky hair gave her a determined edge. But MIRRORPASS is also a novel that focuses very much on what’s going on inside Aria. The flavor of her character has less to do with her visual appearance, and a whole lot more with her inner determination, her vulnerability and fears, her unquenchable longing to solve the mysteries that have torn her life and family apart. She’s hopeful and doubtful and fierce all at once.
So that’s how I tend to visualize her as well. What I find fascinating as that when I saw the picture on Pinterest, I recognized it right away as capturing the inner Aria. It wasn’t a technically accurate portrayal of Aria on the outside—I could imagine my betas going, “Wait. Where’s her wings? And her scars? When did she become a redhead?” And they’d be correct in their criticism, in that sense. But on a much deeper level, the Pinterest picture is more accurate.
I’m bringing all this up because it reminded me how much of a gap there is between how I may imagine a character, and how readers will visualize that character. Nobody but me would have looked at that Pinterest photo and thought “Aria.” How many times have you read a book assuming a character was blond, or short, and kind of frumpy looking, and found out different later on? Unless the author makes a point of describing their character—which can be clunky and often ineffective—readers are going to spin the character based on their own assumptions.
Funny example. When my mom read an early first chapter of MIRRORPASS, she came to me afterward asking why my character was green-skinned. I was like, “She’s not green, mom. Where did you get green?” And my mom was like, “She’s not green? I thought she was some kind of green winged alien thing.”
These impressions can be important. Which brings us to the question of how important are they? I’m personally okay with people spinning the visual look of my characters, as long as it stays true to my character’s nature. That’s the important part to me—people knowing how my character would act and feel well enough that you can almost extrapolate how they look from that inner nature.
But that’s me. What about you guys? How important is it for you to get the look right, whether you’re reading someone else’s book, or writing your own? Do you like it when the author dictates a character’s look, or do you like having a little mental shuffle room?
Truly and always,