Of course, there are lots of ways to get to know your characters. Some writers like to do in-depth character interviews, asking all kinds of probing questions. Others free-write autobiographies and let the characters describe themselves. Still others create detailed lists about the character’s background, physical characteristics, and personality traits.
I use all those techniques at various times and in different combinations. But ultimately, what helps me most is pictures. So when I begin to flesh out a character for a new book, one of my first steps is browsing the Internet for character photographs.
Sometimes I may already have an idea of what the character will look like, and I’m ready to cast a known celebrity in the part. For my upcoming novel When the Clouds Roll By, I could already see Anne Hathaway (pre-Les Mis haircut) as my “leading lady.” So I typed “Anne Hathaway” in the Google search box, selected the “Images” option, and up popped hundreds of photographs.
The search for the hero and villain took a different tactic. All I really knew was that the hero was fair-haired and the villain was dark and brooding. (Okay, yes, a bit stereotypical--so sue me.) For my hero, I Googled “blond male actors” and came up with several websites to browse.
Here are a couple for your viewing pleasure:
After taking my time (oh yeah!) perusing these web pages, I knew my hero had to be Simon Baker.
|"Chaplain Samuel Vickary"|
In casting some of my previously published novels, sometimes I had only the vaguest concept of what the character might look like, and my imagination needed a jumpstart. In those cases, I’ve used stock photography sites like Getty Images, istock, and Bigstock.
On any of these sites, you begin by entering some basic search criteria. Maybe you know your heroine is between 25 and 30 years old. Does she have long hair or short? Curly or straight? Do you know what color? Start making choices and see what the search engine brings up.
Once I get my selections narrowed to a manageable amount (could be hundreds!), I just start looking at pictures until one jumps out at me. This is how I found my characters for Romance by the Book and A Horseman’s Heart.
After finding an image that appeals to me, the next thing I do is look for other photos of the same model. Sometimes there’s a link below the photo for “similar images.” You can also click on the photo, then scroll down to click on the photographer’s name, then search the collection for other photos of this model. Seeing the same person in a variety of poses, costuming, and settings can spark all kinds of ideas for characterization, story scenes, or even plot twists.
Let’s walk through a search example. We’ll use Getty Images and type in “blonde woman 25-30.” Here's what we get.
On the left side of the window, you’ll see ways to refine your search, including number of people in the photo, more age refinements, ethnicity, concept, etc. In the search box, you can also type in additional criteria and ask to search within the current results.
For the next step in our example, let’s refine our search to include one person, adults only, one woman only, caucasian. That brings us to this page.
Now let’s narrow it even further. Skip down to “Composition” and choose “looking at camera.” Still a lot to choose from, so go back to the search box and click the button for “Search within,” then type “short hair.” Now you should be down to only a couple hundred results.
I like image #138311420, which for me is on row 6 on this results page. When I click on “similar images,” I find a few more photos of this model.
Next, let’s click on one of those images to find the photographer’s name and click on it. Here’s where we are now. As you can see, the photographer used the same model in several different settings, including with other people. Any story ideas bubbling to the surface as you browse through these?
Please remember, these are rights-protected images. Unless you purchase them, you do NOT have the right to do anything other than look. If you copy them to your computer for personal reference, the image will appear with a watermark in the center. For my purposes, that’s okay. I just need the visual inspiration to help me know my characters better.
If you choose to join one of these photography sites, you can purchase credits to use the photos that suit your purposes. For instance, you might want to use some of your character photos to create a book trailer. Smaller-sized images usually work fine, which is what I used when creating the trailer for One Imperfect Christmas. Just be sure to read the fine print concerning which rights you are purchasing and the restrictions on usage.
When I’m ready to look for character photos, the Internet has definitely spoiled me. In the “olden days,” I often browsed through catalogs and magazines, clipping out pictures of interesting people of all ages and saving them in a “Future Characters” scrapbook. Sometimes just looking through your own or someone else’s family photo album can spark ideas.
Do you have other sources you like to use for character images? Let’s talk!
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Myra will give away winner’s choice of one of her Heartsong Presents “Horseman” books to one lucky commenter on today’s post. Just mention in the comment section if you’d like to be entered in the drawing.
A Horseman's Heart
A Horseman's Gift
A Horseman's Hope