I read an article once, that said our brains are incapable of creating faces from scratch. I have no proof backing this up, but it seems a reasonable enough suggestion given the complexity of faces. For the purposes of this blog. This means that every face you see in your dreams, you’ve seen before. Maybe they passed you in the street, or sat three tables across from you in the coffee shop and you barely flashed them a glance, but your subconscious noticed them. It took in enough detail to make hazy faces in your dreams, or blurry sketches of potential characters. But create them from scratch, it cannot.
What was does that mean for our characters? That we are pilfering faces from outright strangers in order to create character masterpieces? We must be!
So here’s my question to you, how many of you actually have physical images of either your characters, or inspiring images that look something like your idea of your character?
I didn’t when I first started writing. In fact, I didn’t bother until I started my novel. But now, I can’t write without them. Here’s why I think you should try finding images of your characters.
1. Faces Have Character
There’s a phrase that goes something like, ‘she’s got so much character in her face’. People say that for a reason. Usually, because the person they are referring to is either slightly odd looking, utterly beautiful or completely unique. But always…always, because it’s true. Most of our expression is through non verbal communication. Whether it be body language, expressions or micro facial expressions; most of which is conveyed through our faces. Now I hear what you are shouting – my characters are a collection of words on beige pages, they don’t have ‘actual’ faces. Yes, that might be true. But we all know characters are real, at least they are meant to be real to readers, and it’s our job as writers to make them real, and what better way than portraying it through their face.
When I used to write about characters without having found an image of their face, I found it hard to imagine those micro expressions, the intricacies of how they react when being patronised for example. I didn’t know if they raised an eyebrow, furrow their faces, or flared up with flame red cheeks.
But that all changed when I was able to visualise a real face. Even though it was just an inanimate face, I could still infer what I needed.
But more than that, doesn’t giving your character a face make them more real to you?
2. Faces Are Muses
The thing about faces, is that we – humans – a programmed to be drawn to them. There’s plenty of information all over the net about how much babies love faces, like here or here. But it’s more than that, there is something about faces that inspires us. Don’t you ever find yourself gawping at someone beautiful, or odd looking, or unique, or interesting? I do. I can’t help myself, I need to look, to absorb every intricate detail of their face. As a writer, this is my bread and butter. I draw inspiration, as I assume most of you do, from people around me. I talked about how I found someone interesting in a meeting and sat sketching them rather than listening here. But my point is, don’t you get ideas from faces? Or someone’s eyes, or nose, or crooked lips, or they way they pronounce their S’s, T’s and R’s. When you think about those features later, do they weave their way into your writing? Most writers follow this observational journey to some extent, and if you don’t, then you should.
If you give your character a face, a real one, a picture, that brown hair might just lead you to think about why it’s brown when everyone else is blonde in their family, or you might take note of the length, and decide they keep it long because they were forced to shave it as a child… Do you see where I am going? Having an image can lead you down a thousand inspiration paths.
3. Faces Help You Mix and Match
The process of finding a face for your character was imperative to nailing down my characters… well, everything. When looking for images, I found it hard at first, but the more images I found the quicker I was able to discount them, because the nose wasn’t right, or the hair was wrong, their lashes weren’t long enough, the character wouldn’t have that skin colour. It actually helped me decide things I didn’t know I wanted to make a decision about. For example, I found an image of an olive skinned, long haired brunette male, who was exceptionally handsome. He fit the character perfectly, but something was wrong, I couldn’t work it out. I carried on looking for images because I thought it was something wrong with the image. I then came across an image of another male with olive skin and long similar styled hair to the first. But they were different people. Except that they weren’t…. Well the models were different people obviously. But what it led me to realise, is that my character had a twin brother… That first twin, is now a major player in my story. He is positioned in a particular pose in the photo, a relaxed casual sort of way, and that is exactly how my character would sit. It really helped to finalise details in my head.
3. Stereotypes and Clichés
Sometimes the photos make you realise that characters don’t match, whether it because because of a facial detail, or you realise you don’t actually want them to be like this, or that. But the other thing it helps you to do is stereotype, or not as the case may be. If you have a character that is the typical girl next door, or the geek in the class, finding a photo may make you realise that you were either stereotpying a character, and that can be positive or negative. Or you could have been created a clichéd character. Did your geek wear glasses and have their hair in plaits or a bun? with neat uniform? Exactly. Giving your character a face ensures you don’t make mistakes.
One More Reason…
5. If I haven’t convinced you enough already, then how about the fact that faceless people (or characters) are genuinely scary. I mean, just look at these guys:
No one likes a faceless bureaucracy, and no one likes a faceless character either. Seriously though, giving a character a face made them more real to me.
Why don’t you try finding your characters a face?