Monday, February 17

What do characters look like?

I'm surprised at how little thought I give to what the people in my stories look like. I always include hair color, eye color, and basic build, plus maybe a dimple or a scar or a slight limp so the reader make them look however they want. This is the reason I'm happiest when my books don't have people on their covers, or at least, as in the case of
One More Summer, people but no faces.

Realizing this made me wonder how I could know the people so completely without being able to see them completely. The conclusion I reached is that I feel them to such an extent that having only an abstract idea of their looks is enough.

Honestly, I don't know how to get the point of this post across, so please bear with me. My heroines are never schoolteachers, but watching teachers with students makes me know expressions I want to see and touches I want to describe. Yesterday, Duane and I sat on the couch together and watched an episode of something goofy on TV and literally laughed until we cried. That laugh and the feel of his warmth against me--those are things I want to write. To feel.

We watched The Waltons for years--still do sometimes. Ralph Waite, the patriarch after
Will Geer died, passed away the other day. Mr. Waite was handsome, I think, but it wasn't his looks I see clearly when I think of him as John Walton. It's his voice with roughness dancing through it, the way he held someone's gaze, the love that never faltered for Olivia and the seven little Waltons, the sense of responsibility that he never turned his back on. That is the hero I feel, even though the edges are blurred when I see him.

The sense of loss that came with his passing was immense. His portrayal of one of my heroes was such that I'll never forget him. What a gift he gave to so many of us, that feeling of rough gentleness, forthrightness, responsibility, and love. 

He said, as Ralph Waite and not John Walton, "A self-centered, selfish life is not one worth living. One of service is essential. Taking some responsibility for myself and for my life, trying to be loving to those around me, those are the things that mean the most to me as the years have gone by."

This is what a hero looks like. I can feel it--I don't have to see it.

Goodnight, Daddy.

20 comments:

  1. I loved the relationship between John and Olivia, between them and all the kids, too, for that matter.

    I like to know what my characters look like, down to their smile and frustrated looks...it helps me get so much more 'right'. That said, I rarely describe them in my books down to the seventh-laugh-line-on-the-right, I'm more general - because, as a reader, I like to make up my mind what the characters look like. Isn't that odd?

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    1. I don't know if it's odd, but I do the same thing, and as a reader, I appreciate it. Thanks for coming by, Kristi!

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  2. Do you know other than the first special with Patricia Neal, that I didn't really like the Waltons? Isn't that weird??? But I know *exactly* what you mean by not seeing the characters. Mine sometimes don't have faces...! LOL Not to me anyhow.
    Great post, Liz!

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    1. Thanks, D. I loved The Waltons from the get-go. Even though I was born and raised in the north and love it there, there's something about the Appalachians that's always drawn me. Plus, I was young enough when it was on to remember feeling like John-Boy always did: a square peg in a round hole. I still am that, but I like it now. :-)

      Thanks,D!

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  3. Never watched the Waltons, but I understand what you mean about not describing each character in detail. I prefer to let their dialogue and body language tell me about them, instead.

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    1. Me, too! And I don't always get that right away, either!

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  4. I'm the same way, whether I'm reading or writing. It's the feel of the characters rather than the physical description that bonds me to them.

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    1. I think this is why half-naked-guy covers are such a turnoff to me. :-)

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  5. I agree. Joe Morelli (from Stephanie Plum books) in my head is way more interesting looking. I don't have to know everything about his looks. I think a book leads me to the spot in my head and fantasy takes over. lol. And yes, I'm sick of naked covers too.

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  6. Nice post, Liz. Our family enjoyed watching the Waltons without fear of inappropriate behavior or language. John and Olivia confronted love, loss, heartache, suffering, sickness, death, and hard decisions with good taste and integrity. Hollywood good looks are not why we remember them, but rather consistently rich characters. I hope to earn my reader's trust, just as Earl Hamner Jr. earned mine. I agree that it starts with the cover.

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    1. Thanks, Julia. I hadn't thought of the word "trust," but it's fitting.

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  7. Liz, it sounds like you're one of those special people who see with their hearts, as well as with your eyes. Not a bad thing for a writer because that *sight* will eventually find its way onto the pages of your book. :) Readers love that sort of storytelling. Keep it up!

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  8. Sorry to comment so late, Liz. I always know what my characters look like, usually before I know their names. That's why my covers are usually a surprise. I love them, but the characters look totally different from what I Imagined.

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    1. I will say, though, you have beautiful covers!

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  9. Very good. It's like a blind person, they know the person, not by their looks, but what they sense about them. Good advice.


    Terri

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  10. Good one, Liz. I too prefer covers where clearly defined features are obscured. That way when a hero is described as tall, dark, and handsome, the reader supplies the image. Often that image is way different from a photo used for a cover. I'll never forget the cover put on one of my hardcover novels. I described the hero, a doctor, as wearing wire-frame glasses in order to look more mature (and less like the hottie of the month). The cover artist put a man on the cover wearing Dustin Hoffman "Tootsie" glasses. And he was just plain ugly. Worst cover you ever saw. Needless to say that book didn't earn out.

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    1. Exactly! I haven't had that happen, but I've seen it! Thanks for coming by, Joan.

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