How do you “see” your characters?

My friend was sitting in my writing lair the other day and happened to see a bunch of index cards with color photographs of various head shots with written descriptions next to them. She asked me what they were. I admitted they were my cheater cards for characters. When she gave me that quizzical look we as writers can all describe: brown furrowed, a subtle squint in the corners of the eyes, I explained these were what I envisioned my characters in my current WIP looked like. I like having an actual picture to work from than simply a written description.

How do you see your characters? Are you like me and you need a visual prompt? Or can you simply see the person in your mind and bring them to life on the page?

Up until a few years ago I tried to paint the picture of what my peeps looked like in my head and then transfer it to the written word. The problem I encountered was I needed to keep going back to the original description if I mentioned eye or hair color again, because I would invariably forget how I described them. I got the idea to start using photographs of celebrities, or people I’d see in print ads, one day when the person I wanted to describe looked exactly like a very famous actor. I figured as long as I didn’t state he was dead ringer for my character, but describe his attributes instead, I would be okay.

And I was.

I printed out a picture from an on-line site and then went on to describe his features, including height, approximate weight and body type. From that moment on, whenever I needed to refer to a characteristic again, all I needed to do was look at my picture.

Then I had a divine inspiration: I not only printed the picture, I pasted it to an index card and then physically wrote down every description of the character I might need. Body type, weight, height, any physical ticks or quirks, eye color, hair color. For men, if they would typically sprout a five o’clock shadow by, say, 3 pm., I’d add it. If their chests were hairy, matted, or smooth got included so during the love scenes I wouldn’t have mistakenly “shaved” a guy with hair and made him smooth to the touch.

For the women, waist and bust size along with shapeliness or a lack of it was documented. Were their smiles full, sexy or sardonic?

You may ask isn’t this a bit much to fit all on an index card? No, it’s not.

This system has worked so well for me, I haven’t had a mistaken blue eye substituted for a brown one in years.

However you envision them, however you remember their attributes, whatever works for you is fine.

This is the easiest way for my rapidly deteriorating menopausal memory to deal with information that needs to be repeated.

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