The Power of Pictures

I’ve never been much of a visually observant person. My husband laughs at me all the time because I won’t notice a new building going up or what color house someone has. I respond that I’d notice anything truly important, and he says that I don’t know what color his eyes are. Brown, I think. Right? Honey?

When I write, I have to force myself to add visual description (or any kind of sensory details, for that matter). I agonize over those sentences. Dialogue? Flies out pretty fast. Emotional reactions? No problem. But ask me what style of clothes my main character wears and I’m at a total loss.

A few authors I follow on Twitter or their blogs mentioned that they use online images for their main characters, and it really helped them visualize their characters. So I went searching, found a few images that maybe/sort of/kind of looked like my characters, but it didn’t do much for me.

When my writing group met last time (hello Jeannie, Rachel, and Kate!), they suggested that I make the antagonist of my new book much younger. I resisted for a while before I realized they were right, since there would be more intrigue involved that way. So I went on a hunt, and this is what I ended up with.

Marianna’s a high school teacher, so this isn’t exactly how she’d look in the book. But something about the joy in her expression and the bounce of her hair seems to help me imagine her so much better. The hair helps me, especially – those curls are quite the defining feature.

The other image that I found helps with how she dresses. In my online critique group, someone mentioned that it sounds like Marianna wears 50s clothes. I wanted her look to be distinctive, so I started looking for images of 50s clothes, and ended up with this:

The best thing about these pictures (dresses and character) is that it grounds me. I can describe one of these dresses exactly as I see it, and not be hampered by my lack of visual memory.

I’m keeping the picture of Marianna on my desktop right now, so when I need to remember what she looks like – or her spirit, even – I can remind myself with a glance.


2 responses to “The Power of Pictures

  1. I’ve found it’s helpful to use not just a picture as a model, but an actor.

    For example, in The Lone Wolf, I decided that Michelle Williams would play Kasey. I went back and watched all her movies, to see how she reacted in various situations – how she cried, how she laughed, how she got mad. And then I applied that to the character. I think when I did that, Kasey became a lot more real, not only to me, but in the story as well.

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