I often tell people I’m a character reader. It’s important to me to be able to “root” for the characters, to connect with them in some way, to feel as if I understand them and to believe their actions are consistent with how the author has written them.
But one thing I rarely pay attention to is character description. Truthfully, I don’t care if the heroine has blonde hair or green hair (well, maybe if she has green hair because that might speak to her personality). I don’t care if the hero has blazing blue eyes, six-pack abs and powerful thighs. Why? Because I form a picture of the characters in my head based on my impressions of them, not based on the actual descriptions.
Case in point: I’m an avid fan of JD Robb. If I was going to take a series to a desert island, it would be this series. Naked in Death is my most re-read book of all time. They are my ultimate comfort reads. I love them. So others who read the series might be startled when I tell you, in my head, Dr. Mira is an Asian woman. She is certainly NOT described like this in the visual descriptions provided in the book, but despite any and all cues to the contrary in my numerous re-reads of the books, I continue to picture her as a lovely Asian woman, slim, trim, rather short, poised, elegant and giving off a calm demeanor. Some of that may very well be in line with how JD Robb describes her, but she most certainly doesn’t describe her as Asian. But that’s how I picture her.
That little quirk of mine is one reason I’m reluctant to ever see a movie based on a book I’ve read. Or why I’m scared to see what might happen if they ever make Naked in Death or One for the Money (Janet Evanovich) into movies. Will Eve be as I see her in my head or will the movie confuse that image for me? Will the casting director be able to find someone just right for the role of Grandma Mazur?
I had a final line editor point out in a book I edited that there is very little physical description given of the heroine. You can see why I might not notice and truthfully, I found myself thinking…”so?” lolol. Of course, I realize not every reader disregards physical description like I do and sometimes I have to make a conscious effort to make sure they’re described at least a little!
On the other hand, I do notice too much physical description (or inconsistent description, which is weird given my claim not to pay attention, but there you go). There are many times during edits that I’ve told an author to get rid of numerous references to eye color, hair color or her pouty lips (just as a few examples). I’m thinking if *I* am feeling hit over the head with the hero’s golden hair, then a reader who does take note of physical description is going to feel even more so. And let’s be honest, is there any genre other than romance in which physical description gets so much word count? The heroine’s luscious lips, the hero’s chiseled jaw, her soft thighs, his hard…well you get the idea. I think there’s a delicate balance that occurs in romance, where the author has to be careful not too describe them too much, because that’s an area where you start to enter into purple prose.
So here’s my question: Do you notice physical description–do you need physical description? Or are you like me and picture the characters based on something else?