In the eye of the bookholder

Image source: By Craig Sunter from Manchester, UK (Mystery man (colour version)) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
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How do you decide how your characters should look?

This question from a fellow blogger intrigued us. How do we decide?

We follow other authors on Pinterest, and oftentimes they pin pictures of models or celebrities to represent characters in their books. But we’ve never gotten that specific. That’s curious because our books are all about the characters—so much so that we use the main character’s name when we talk about stories-in-progress. We set up computer files based on the character’s name too. For example, the heroine in our young adult novel, Walled In, is named Vandy. Every file relating to Walled In is labeled “Vandy.” And yet we have no tangible images of Vandy anywhere.

All we have is a general description of Vandy’s height, hair and eye color, and a quirk or two. We created these simple guidelines to avoid describing Vandy’s blue eyes on one page and then talking about her green eyes several chapters later. Without a list, mistakes like that are easy to make, especially with two writers working on the same book. But actual pictures? Nope. Not a one.

So maybe the answer is we don’t decide how our characters should look. It’s not that we don’t care. But as writers, we approach our character’s appearance the same way we do as readers—by filling in our own expectations and experiences. The beauty of our characters is in the eye of the bookholder, whoever that may be.

We might have to revisit our inclination to avoid pictures when we get our first movie contract. After all, we want to be sure to cast the right celebrity in the role! Until then, we’ll carry on as we are. We figure Thoreau had it right when he said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” And we see our characters just fine, without having to know the size of the mole on her left toe.

How specific do you get with your character’s appearance? Tell us in the comments.


LorriHelen for Web

Florida-based mother/daughter author duo HL Carpenter writes sweet, clean fiction that is suitable for everyone in your family. The Carpenters write from their studios in Carpenter Country, a magical place that, like their stories, is unreal but not untrue. When they’re not writing, the Carpenters enjoy exploring the Land of What-If and practicing the fine art of Curiosity. Visit to enjoy gift reads and excerpts and to find out what’s happening in Carpenter Country.

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HL Carpenter
HL Carpenter writes sweet, clean fiction suitable for your entire family. Visit for gift reads and the latest Carpenter Country news.

2 Comments on "In the eye of the bookholder"

  1. A traumatic brain injury years ago plagues me with short-term memory issues. I end up keeping copious notes about my characters and all their descriptions and personality traits. I’m constantly checking back against that list. It’s another reason I am so married to my professional editors.

    I have found it easier to link some of my characters to actors because of my memory issues. It makes it easier for me to remember. Personalities are much easier to remember than physical traits for me.


  2. Thanks for sharing your writing process, Peggy! Personalities are easier for us to remember too–and your advice about professional editors is spot on.

    Thank you too for being so open about your journey in triumphing over life’s challenges. You are an inspiration, as is your husband. So marvelous that you have someone so firmly in your corner!

    May you continue to be as inspired as you are inspiring.


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