I don’t set out to create characters that look like actors, but I find it helpful to have images of some. I put them on my Pinterest board for the novel I’m working on, along with a bunch of links to sites I will use for reference (things like a diagram of horse riding tack items with names). I also occasionally search for an image of a place to help me, but because I write works about a fantastical world, I end up having a tough time finding anything that matches what my imagination came up with. This is also a reason I’m having a difficult time creating a book cover that really speaks to what my book is about. Here’s my board for Ungloved.
Book covers need to tell readers what kind of book they will be getting. I had one made up when I thought my novel would fit in the Young Adult category, but I’ve since decided that it won’t work. It seems to say that one should expect a paranormal romance (read vampire love story) as opposed to epic fantasy with a serving of romance. It’s not that my cover couldn’t say those things if you looked at it hard enough, but on first glance, we’re trained to sum up what we see and categorize it in an instant, and in that moment, based on covers of books published in the past, my old cover doesn’t say what I need it to say. Imagine my readers begin, thinking the work will be set in the real world, only to find right off the bat that we are somewhere completely different. It won’t make them happy.
So back to characters. I love this part. Shaping a character is an art, like sculpture. (I majored in this in University!) but often it’s more like cooking for me than like stone sculpting. I take a pinch of personality trait from someone I once knew, a dab of something I saw on TV, mix it with a little more borrowed habits, and voila, I have a fully three dimensional (I hope!) person who will behave in interesting and captivating ways on the page. Whether I planned for it or not, these characters will force me to write their story the way they want it. For me, often writing is simply letting destiny happen.
So let me show you someone I made up from my own little noggin. Here is a character profile for the lead in “Ungloved”
Role in Story: Lead
Physical Description: Diminutive in size, pale complexion, shoulder length pale blond hair and misty blue eyes. Heart shaped face. Young but fully developed. I imagine Liriel looking a lot like Amanda Seyfried. She has a heart shaped face, big blue eyes and full lips. Liriel would be paler than a human, and her eyes a paler shade of blue. She is particularly petite.
Personality: Feisty and independent. Spirited and not easy to control. Marches to a different drummer. Is unwilling to follow the social conventions of her people, always trying to go against the grain. Thinks with her heart as much as her head. Is extremely intuitive.
Habits/Mannerisms: Liriel hates the gloves her people always wear, and takes every opportunity to pull them off. She is always tempted to touch things in order to learn more about them.
Background: Liriel’s father is King of Kalad. She has two older siblings, the very proper Selana, and the mercurial Valran. Her father is very distant with his children, so they have developed independently. Liriel is a recent graduate of the College of the Marukar, where Marulan are trained. She had difficulty during her training, since her methods were unorthodox, even though she achieved the same results as others. Liriel’s intuitive nature applies strongly to her healing, and therefore she never directly applies the teachings of her college. In addition, her power is greater than others realize, so she is always being told to conserve when she is certain she has more than enough, which creates conflict. The College is frustrated, but unable to kick her out due to her family connections, so the push her through quickly and pass her early so she can go out and work.
Internal Conflicts: Liriel’s contrarian nature makes it difficult for her to acquiesce and behave in an expected and acceptable manner. All of her choices seem to lead her away from a conventional life.
External Conflicts: Liriel just wants to be with Lorenzo. The war between their two countries makes this impossible.