Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Monday, October 11, 2010

How Do You Visualize?

Within sight of my desk, I have two bulletin boards covered in maps, charts, name lists, time lines, and—most important—pictures of our characters. I was once told the walls around my writing space look like a teenager's room. And the boards are a mess, with stuff tacked willy-nilly in layers three and four deep. I never take anything down. I just cover it up with new pictures. This is pretty weird behavior for someone who has her spices in alphabetical order and her jewelry organized by color and season.

I like a visual. Though she doesn't need it herself, Stephanie understands this. She has drawn maps of towns, house plans, and ships. I need those things for logistics. (How far is it from the heroine's candy shop to the courthouse? Is it feasible for her to walk? Is her best friend's interior design business on the way?)

Stephanie can't help me with the character pictures. It has to be right for me. It would be easier if I could flip through a magazine with no preconceived idea of the character's physical attributes until I find something that pleases me, but that's not how it works. I always know what he looks like. Which may lead you to ask, "Then why do you need a picture?"—which leads me to answer, "I don't know but I do." And I have to wait for it to come to me; waiting is hard.

I am very excited because Nathan (the hero of our new WIP) arrived in the mail on Thursday, right on a Bath and Body works advertisement. The picture isn't perfect, but it's darn close. Twilight Woods for Him Nathan has blue eyes and my Nathan is brown eyed. Twilight Woods for Him Nathan has contrived five o'clock shadow and if my Nathan has five o'clock shadow, it's because it's five o'clock and he hasn't been able to get home to shave yet.

You will never find a hero of ours who is not clean shaven. She likes them dark and I like them blond; she likes a short hair cut and I like for him to have enough locks to toss. But Stephanie and I agree wholeheartedly on the facial hair thing.

Incidentally, our Nathan would never use Twilight Woods for Him. In fact, he's not going to the mall. He's more likely to buy Suave at the convenience store or use what some woman left in his shower.

Do you need a visual? Are there any physical attributes that we will never see in your characters?

16 comments:

  1. I don't usually use a visual. There are so many people running around in my head that I have to write down descriptions to keep them straight. Maybe your method would help me.

    The only things you will never see on my heroes are: tattoos and piercings. I guess those aren't quite physical attributes. I know a lot of people have them these days but I can't get into them. I don't have anything against them - it's just that I don't see my heroes that way.

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  2. Cheryl,

    Yeah, you probably aren't going to see those things on our heroes either and certainly not our heroines. As you said, it's no more wrong that hair color, it a matter or preference. And that is one great thing about being a writer--being master of WHAT IS--that is until the character disagrees. Because you know there was that one tiny tattoo. Straight laced tortured circuit judge Luke told us he had a tiny tattoo on his ankle bone that he got in Panama city spring break weekend his sophomore year in college. We argued, but he insisted. Turns out it was seeing that tattoo that made the heroine break down and tell him about some mistakes she'd made. It was a turning point.

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  3. I like to have visuals and poster boards with my stories on them. I use different color pens. I go from linear, computer thinking to colorful, creative hand on paper thinking. I am left/right brain switcheroo girl. That's how I roll. And I love pictures of my heroes and heroines to keep me motivated.

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  4. Like you said, there is no right or wrong way to process, just that you get those characters' conversations on paper so they stop "talking" to you. I love your description of the tatooed character "insisting" on that tatoo, then finding out it was the key to connecting with the heroine's desire to reveal her mistakes. Sometimes that little bit of uncomfortable compromise is what creates enough tension to make a character appear real and interesting.
    My office with its paper on top of paper is a problem because I don't produce a product, but you are not being dreamy and messy, you are producing a product. You should be able to get a pass for a messy workspace.

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  5. I like to have the map, but I like the characters to come out of my head. Interestingly, Tasha Alexander, a writer I love (And Only to Deceive), mentioned in conversation with me, and then again at the Southern Festival of Books on Friday, that she never truly gives descriptions of her character - no hints at features, height or hair color, so that her reader can fill in the details for her or himself.

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  7. Deb—You get it completely. Are you writing? You should be. As for the messy room. I do give myself a pass but it took a while for me to get past it. It is generally the only messy room in my house and I used think I needed to clean it to earn the privilege of writing. An author friend of mine whose name you would know, called BS on that and I figure it's worked out for her. If I'm in this room I can be productive or I can clean it. Right now my hero and heroine are having an argument in my head and he is being especially funny. That's more important than the two tote bags and three notebooks I dumped on the bed on the way to my desk.

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  8. Gwen—That's interesting, though not surprising. Stephanie and I find that we know a lot more about our characters than the reader needs to know. When we are in inception, it's not unusual for us to ask each other questions like, "What's on her iPod?" or "Would he wear that?" Just this weekend while we were watching football (and drinking; it was a rough afternoon) she asked, "What does Nathan drink?" After a lot of discussion, he told us he doesn't drink much but when he does, he drinks non imported beer. (He likes to have his wits about him all the time. He will never ever be caught off guard again. HA! If only he knew. . . . ) Will the reader ever have to be told that? No, but, it helps us know just a little more about him.

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  9. Christine—I've always admired people who used posters and storyboards but it would make me a nervous wreck. For similar reasons I don't shop with coupons. It becomes about the coupon and pretty soon I've got a pantry filled with pop tarts, instant pudding, and a dozen other things that we would never eat. Same with scrapbooking. My answer to that is to put things that I want to keep in my cookbooks. Since I have so many, sometimes it's years before I run across a postcard from a friend, a picture of Babygirl from a sorority dance, or a Mother's Day card from Precious Angel. They are always a surprise and they always make me smile.

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  10. Hey Jean! I'm so glad you've been able to get online today. You've given us this great blog. Yay! ;)

    I agree with a lot of what everyone is saying. My office is messy because I share it with everyone else in the house. (Must I mention that almost everything in there is mine?) But I need an office that feels lived in, full, used, loved. Everyone else hates that it is so messy. LOL! Not a problem for me until it does get to be and then I straighten up the place, finding things I'd forgotten I'd put there. :D

    As for visuals, I gotta have 'em. I keep a Composition notebook filled with character traits/visuals/plot. This helps me keep everything straight. But pictures inspire me and keep me grounded in the characters. I've put together storyboards for three books. Before that, I had a rudementary cork board with random things placed on them. I have photo albums with pictures I've taken at museums. Plenty, in fact, too many different research books that I scan or turn to in a blind moment.

    My characters come to me before I find them. I know who they are, how they act, and what they look like. After they reveal themselves, I go to a file I've created of pictures taken from magazines or from online and then I seek out my character. Once, I found someone who was everything my hero should be, except he had the wrong color eyes. That was enough to give me the visual I needed though. Does this kind of process come from being an Art student or freak? Who knows? But it seems to work for me and I'd recommend it.

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  11. LOL Jean! Your hero arrived in the mail on Thursday!!
    I can't imagine your bulletin boards being messy!
    I need to visualize too. But it's a pain in the butt when you can't find a picture of the H/H and what they have. Houses, cars, clothes..etc. I'm needing to make a WalMart run (ugh!) to the toy department as we speak. My heroine's 5 year old nephew has thrown a toy on the roof that she needs to get down, but I have no idea what kind of toy yet. My children are older so I've been out of the cool toy loop for awhile now. :-D

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  12. Kathy--Was down. Now I'm back. I might go down before I get this posted. Whatever you're doing, is working for you. You've tried it all, haven't you?

    Sherry--The book we have out in submissions right now has a three-year-old. I used this site to find toys:

    http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=30&e=toysby

    You'll have to cut and past it to your browser. It great--divides them by age!

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  13. My office is a mess -- and, yes, I need to find a photograph that fits, as closely as possible, the picture I have in my head.

    My desk is such a train wreck is almost terrifies ME -- and I'm the one who made it that way.

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  14. Linda--Glad to know I'm in good company! I am beginning to fear an avalanche. . . .

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  15. This is a great topic! And yes, I -absolutely- need a visual to help me to slide in and out of my character's heads. I thought it was funny when you mentioned the B&B add, because I flip through magazines endlessly for the sole purpose of studying the people modeling. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not the type to want all of my characters to look like movie stars. I want regular people with -something- unique or distinct about them. For women, I've been known to cannibalize facial features from Avon magazine models. With men, for some reason I prefer to use the health and medical magazines that I "borrow' from various waiting rooms. >.> Once, I recall discovering my ideal villain's face on a cereal box.(No, it wasn't Captain Crunch) I've got a file marked 'character concepts' that's filled with crinkled magazine images I've saved over the years, just waiting for me to slap a personality onto them. When it's a main character who I need to know inside and out, I always end up taking a reference image and then drawing a picture of them with my desired adjustments made to it. I'm not much of an artist, but for whatever reason that is the final step for me in making them real to me.

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  16. WOW, y'all have had a great day without me. :-)
    Sorry to be chiming in so late but it looks like you all have it covered.

    My office is usually a bit messy but I can't work if it gets to out of hand. Of course, shoving all of the mess into a big shopping bag and putting it behind the futon is a great quick fix when I need it more tidy but don't have much time!

    Jean hit it right on the head with the fact that I don't personally need a visual but understand the need in those who do. This is probably because I am Action Girl and think much more about what they are doing, saying and going.

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