In a first draft, it can be hard to visualize my characters. They’re fledgling beings who morph as my story develops, becoming more solid and definable as I revise.
In my writing workshops, I suggest people draw their characters, if they can, in order to better connect with them. I’m not capable of sketching much more than stick figures, so it’s not a technique that works for me. I also suggest that writers pick up physical details from people they know or people they meet. Surfing Google Images can help to define what a character looks like. I also develop a character’s physical traits from people I see on the subway or in coffee shops. Maybe I’ll incorporate the dye job I see on a teen girl or her outfit that day. Concrete description is one way to ground your reader in your story and help them experience sensory details.
With my troll characters in my upcoming fantasy novel Bog, it was particularly hard to see them – strangely I didn’t come upon any trolls in the subway or my usual haunts. I needed to imagine my characters to make them come to life in words. That’s why I was eager and nervous when I was first about to see these troll characters illustrated on the cover of Bog. Would Quebec artist Félix Girard “get” my characters? Would his image of them match mine?
I had no need to worry. I fell in love with Felix’s cover art as soon as I saw it. In fact, I loved it so much that I purchased it, and it now hangs in my home. People tell me that it’s inviting, that they want to join the characters on their journey. Felix perfectly captured the Northern Canada setting of the novel, and truly made the characters come to life in art.
In case you’re curious about Felix’s technique, he tells me that he uses acrylic paint on watercolor paper. “I start with a detailed drawing over which I put several layers of paint, using a lot of water,” he says. “It’s quite similar to watercolour painting actually.”