Characterization Exercise: What Image Does This Create?

One of the fun things about the idiosyncratic nature of people is that you can expect them all to have different visualizations for different events. Sometimes, getting into the main image language of a character can result in better understanding her.

In many cases, this image is going to be visual. One way or another, the character does pictures—it might be the people around her in terms of her favorite story, it might be silly images, but either way, there’s something she says and something she sees. An interesting thing is to look at what elements matter in getting the pictures across. Is there a medium she seems to think in—pencils, paints, ink, watercolor? Does she favor non-canvas arts, like sculpture or beadwork? Is there a historical style the images tend to be drawn towards?

Other characters work in different dominant senses. I have one character, for instance, who describes people and situations as pieces played on musical instruments—it’s not that hard to imagine what she means when she describes a character as “That vibrato that always lasts a beat longer than the main chorus” or “One trumpet overblowing a fanfare.” Another thinks in terms of the scents, tastes and/or textures of food: this is the kind of person who would describe a person or situation as “like a durian—rewarding if you can manage the texture and get past the smell.”

At this point, you’ve got a few options. If you’re talented, ambitious, or most likely both, you might try to see if you can replicate this character’s images, then maybe see if you can get them across to an audience that doesn’t have quite your context (this part is of course strictly optional, but kinda fun). If not, consider just jotting down descriptions of what’s going on in there. “Sepia ink—she stands in the doorway, facing outward, her shadow cutting the light that passes through it in two, partying inside, rain outside” may not be quite the gut-puncher the actual picture is in your mind, but it’s pretty good at getting the point across, particularly when contrasted with “unskillful crayon, bright colors, lot of randomly floating symbols—HUG!”

And whether you can capture the images skillfully or not, the important thing isn’t so much that as being able to get them in the first place—to reach the point where you can think in the character’s internal language rather than your own.

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