May 7, 2015

A Bookish Question For You...



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As I was reading the other day, I got to thinking about writers and their descriptions of characters. Some authors describe in great detail about what their characters look like, while others give the barest description they can get away with. Either way is fine by me, except that I will say that too much description can take the focus away from the story. Isn't there a writerly saying about "show, don't tell"....??

Anyway! My point is, as I was reading I realized that I was picturing the scenes in my mind. But I wasn't actually putting faces on the people I was reading about. It was more that I had a general picture of the hair color and body size and height and all that, but nothing in great detail. Kind of like I had the outline of the scene rather than all the colors and wrinkles and every single facial expression. In fact, I've noticed that I tend to make myself the main girl character when I'm imagining a scene. (Is that strange? Or do other people do that too?) Which led me to wondering what other readers' imaginations create.

I realize that it helps a lot if there's a cover model that fits the description well or if there's been a movie and I picture the actor or actress while reading. But that doesn't always guarantee that I will picture the cover model or actor while reading! Our imaginations are so very personal (obviously) and interesting. And I bet we all do differently. Or maybe not. But I'd sure like to find out!

So! What about you? When you're reading a story, do you instantly have a picture of the characters in your mind? If so, to what degree of detail do you imagine?

And please, won't you comment and answer? I'm so curious! (Pretty please? With sugar on top? :)



24 comments:

  1. Great question! The other night, my sister and I were having fun coming up with a dream cast for the Williamsburg books, and I realized again that I don't usually imagine characters in extreme detail either-- like you said, I kind of picture them roughly, hair color and figure and all that, but beyond that is a mystery.

    Though if the book I'm reading has a movie version that I like, I tend to think of the characters as the actors in that. Or sometimes even the cover model (though that is rare, as I usually have issues with cover models!)

    We certainly do imagine things differently! I wonder what other people feel when they read the books I love so well, how it all affects them...these are intriguing thoughts to ponder!

    ~Emma

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    1. Isn't it interesting how we all read books so differently, Emma? I know how I picture scenes and characters while reading and tend to think everyone does that. But as I thought on it more, I realized that was probably incorrect. Which led to this post. And I am loving the feedback I'm getting! :)

      I imagine a movie actor/actress when I think about the story their in, but I actually don't put them into the story while reading it very often. If that makes sense? As for cover models, I tend to turn the book and look at the picture again, especially during particular scenes, to get a clearly picture of the character in mind. Hinging, of course, on whether the cover model matches the author's description. And it's certainly not always a guarantee that they will! Which frustrates me. So I definitely understand why you may have issues.

      Thanks for sharing! It's fun to hear how other readers do. :)

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  2. What a fun question! What's kinda strange in my reading brain is I tend to be able to picture what the male looks like (usually an actor), but I have general ideas for females and not specific people (like actresses).

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    1. Thanks, Jamie! :) Now that I think about it, I think I probably picture the females a lot easier than the males. Hmmm. I hadn't made that connection before. I wonder why that is? Our brains are certainly interesting! :D

      It's actually pretty rare that I can picture an actor/actress while reading specific scenes in the book. It's more like I picture them when I think about the story in general. If that makes sense?

      Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I'll have to check back to see what others say!

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    1. Yes! I am loving all the feedback I'm getting. :)

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  4. Sometimes I have a picture, sometimes not. And like you, if there's a movie the characters look the the actors. But it really doesn't matter what the main character looks like or what gender they are, I always put myself in the place of them, with their features and feelings and life experiences. I think that's how books are supposed to be. They should put you in the story, so that you can feel what the characters are feeling, but yourself in another's shoes, and experience/learn something. The magic of books. :)

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    1. So I'm not the only one who imagines themselves in the story! That's good to hear, Ashley. :) The magic of books, as you said, is a wonderful thing! I do tend to picture myself only as the female characters though, while the males are more nebulous in that instance.

      Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I picture scenes and characters without detail, especially characters. They usually don't have faces or I picture the same person no matter how the authors describe them. Sometimes I picture actors, but rarely. I never picture myself in the story, though. I always see it as me watching the story unfold.

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    1. I watch the story unfold as well, Jenni. With most books and sometimes in particular scenes. For instance, I can put myself into a certain scene in a book, yet a few chapters later, I'm watching everything from a distance. Perhaps it has more to do with how well I can connect with a character? I'm not sure.

      It's good to know other people don't always see faces either. It's a pretty rare occurrence for me as well.

      Thanks for sharing! :)

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  6. This is a very fascinating post! I never picture my face as a character while I'm reading, although I have had dreams where I was a character I had been reading about. Honestly, my level of detail with each character is pretty dependent on how strongly I feel about them, one way or another, or if they have certain features which play a significant role in the story. For instance, right now I'm listening to Water for Elephants on audio. Throughout the book, I have had a basic picture of Jacob's (the main character's) build, hair, and facial outline, but no distinct features. But at one point, he gets beat up pretty badly, and I had a very specific picture of his sore, beat-up face in my mind. As he heals, I now have more facial features pictured than I did originally, but it's not as detailed as when he was hurt. It's not as important to the story any more, I guess. I have a very detailed face of the main mean character, because his facial giveaways and mood swings are very important to the plotline. So anyway...all of the detail in my mind pictures is related to significance in the story. Sorry this went on so long.

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    1. I'm glad you think so, Hannah! :)

      I think you hit on exactly the thing. It's how I connect with the character and how strongly I feel about them that makes the difference on how I picture them. And whether I put myself in their place and feel what their feeling or not. And a significant feature that gets pointed out a few times will become more distinct for me as well.

      As I was reading your comment, the thought occurred that another difference for me is whether I'm reading or listening to a story. While listening to The Hobbit last fall, I pictured Martin Freeman as Bilbo pretty much the whole time. I'm not certain I'd've done the same while reading though. Not sure what the difference is....something to do with how my brain computes listening verses reading I guess....

      It also makes perfect sense that how detailed the writer gets in a particular scene, or perhaps an emotional one?, can create a more vivid picture in our minds. Especially if the facial expressions are so very important to the story.

      And never apologize for a lengthy comment to me! I love it! :D

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    2. I see what you mean about audiobooks, too! Maybe it has something with the voice assigned to the character--if it's different than it would have been in your mind? In the book I'm listening to right now, a character changed appearance slightly in my mind after the narrator started speaking as her. I didn't really think about it at the time, but now that you bring it up I bet that's why! She wouldn't have looked the same to me if I'd just been reading it.

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    3. Yes, exactly! Because the narrator was a man with kind of a gravelly voice and he made me picture Bilbo very distinctly. I'm sure it would have made a huge difference if the narrator had been female. That's probably precisely why when I was just reading the book, I was hearing my own voice in my head and struggled to find a clear picture. That makes so much sense!

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  7. Some characters I can see very vividly, and others are more like what you see where they are hair color, body type, clothes, etc. This is why I don't understand the diverse character movement. Doesn't everyone picture characters differently? Would it really change the story if someone was a different race?

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    1. That's a great point, Kami! I hadn't thought about that, but so true. We all DO picture characters differently. I mean, just look at the comments on this post! And regardless of what race the writer may say the character is, I'm pretty sure I tend to picture my own race more often than not. Maybe more so because it's the one I look at every day. And it has absolutely nothing to do with whether I enjoy the story or not.

      Thanks for pointing that out! :)

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    2. I think it depends on the book. It's not a big deal all of the time, but sometimes making a character a different race could add to the story...give you a feel for the setting or the personality of other characters related to that one. It's basically like talking about a character's hair color. Of course, it makes a difference whether race is added subtly just to enhance the story or if it's meant to significantly change the book.

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    3. I see what you mean, Hannah. I think in most of the books I read, race isn't a huge factor, hence why diversity hasn't really affected me. But if it's clearly outlined and gives more understanding of why a character acts this way or where the author is taking the story or whatever, then I can see that it would make a difference. Perhaps I should expand my reading repertoire? :)

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    4. I'm always on board with more diverse reading, hence the Diverse Reading Challenge I'm doing this year. I read Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko for the race portion, but that's pretty intense if you're just getting started. Hm...oh, I've heard good things about Brown Girl Dreaming! Can't remember the author, but it's a young adult memoir. I'll be reading it sometime soon, probably. I would also recommend When the Emperor Was Divine. I read it a long time ago...it's about a woman and her children sent to a Japanese internment camp in the US during WWII--very good.

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    5. I've also heard great things about Brown Girl Dreaming! I'll have to check further into that one. And When the Emperor Was Divine sounds intriguing. Thanks for the recs, Hannah!

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  8. This is an awesome question! I do imagine characters really clearly in my mind, and they don't always completely fit the authors' descriptions. Isn't that funny? Sometimes I'll be reading along, and get to where the author says, "Jill pushed her blonde hair back from her forehead," and I'll be like, "What?!? Jill's not a blonde! She's a brunette, and she has bangs" But yes, sometimes their faces are kind of a blur, not sharply focused. I feel them more than see them a lot of times, I guess.

    BTW, I've tagged you over on my blog, here. Play if you want to!

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    1. Now that's interesting, Hamlette. And you know what, I think I've done the same thing! Even if the description says a certain hair color, I may imagine another. I'd forgotten that. It hasn't happened that often, but it has happened. Makes me wonder why. (And I guess this would go along with me picturing myself as the main character, but when that happens I'm actually not focused on whether I look like myself or like the character. Interestingly enough, I'm more focused on feeling in the moment. If that makes any sense at all.)

      Yes! I completely agree with you there. My feelings about the character are much more prominent than what they look like.

      I saw the tag! Thanks so much. I may join in sometime soon. :)

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  9. Interesting discussion! I think, like most people here, I don't imagine the characters I read about very clearly. It's more like you see people when you dream; if you wake up you couldn't describe their faces if your life depended on it (at least, I can't!)

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    1. That's a great way to describe it, Birdie! And so true. It's definitely dream-like. And isn't it fascinating the way we all read so differently, yet alike? Books are indeed magic! :)

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