I’m not an artist. I’ve practiced drawing some, but I’m nowhere near good enough to make what’s in my head come out on paper. Yet I find it so much easier to write a character if I can see a picture of them.
This may be a carry-over from role-playing games when I was younger. I would collect old JC Penney and Sears catalogs and go through them, searching for pictures that matched what I had in mind for my characters. When I found one I’d cut it out and attach it to the character sheet.
It’s hard to find those catalogs anymore. Instead I find myself scouting for faces whenever I’m online. If I see one that looks interesting I’ll save it off somewhere. It doesn’t need to be a model–normal-looking people, or people with distinctive looks are preferable. Later on when I need a face for a character I can search through my collection and find one that fits.
I’ll admit, though, that Iget a little self-conscious about people seeing my computer screen when I’m scouting. I feel like they’re going to think I’m a psychopath like you see in those police dramas on TV who collect pictures of their victims and make collages on their bedroom walls, or things like that. It’s completely innocent, honest! I just happen to think that Jeremy Irons would make a good priest in my novel, that’s all.
It’s a shortcut, really. Sure, I can write up a character profile and include details like general appearance, distinctive features, speech patterns, mannerisms, and the like. But I’m a visual guy. A picture truly is worth a thousand words in this case. I look at a picture and my mind automatically fills in everything about that character. I hear their voice. I see their expressions. They become so much easier to write, and hopefully that much more rounded characters.
So until I get better at drawing I’ll be combing the internet with my lantern, looking for an honest face. Please ignore me if I get excited when I stumble across a site with a treasure trove of interesting faces (seriously, the Food Network’s host profiles are terrific!). I’m just a writer. We’re not entirely sane, but we’re mostly harmless. We only kill people in our novels. So far.