This is my series hero, Raef Skallagrim.
What’s that? You don’t see anything?
Oh, right, because I would never, ever, in my wildest dreams, be able to draw him. Assign him a nose? Determine the exact length of his hair? What are these questions you ask of me?
My image of Skallagrim is almost non-existant. I’m still not sure entirely sure what color his hair is. You see, I always thought it was brown. But then I went to Norway and I saw a certain shade of blonde wandering the streets of Oslo and it eludes description. The shade has taken on a kind of mythic quality, always out of reach, dreamed of, inflated by my soul. Seriously, I once spent two hours scrolling through Google images in search of THAT HAIR. Didn’t find it.
When it comes to drawing, the vast extent of my skill was catalogued in a sketchbook I had to create for an art class when I was about thirteen. The dutiful student, I did my weekly entries, adhering as best I could to the guidelines. Perspective this, shading that, pretend you know what cubism is, etc. There was one drawing I remember to this day: the silhouette of a cat staring out a window. There is a small cactus working its way into the corner of the page. I’ll be honest, it’s not all terrible. But I remember the stuff that was halfway decent taking a long time to get right. I am no artist. And that’s okay.
The point is, I couldn’t draw my characters even if I wanted to. And there’s the rub.
I don’t want to draw them. Maybe I think I’ll confine them if I try to place them between lines drawn by a single pencil. Maybe I want my readers to wander through my pages like free range chickens, able to imagine my characters as they please, using only the tidbits of information I have scattered throughout the text. I can say what I like, but the honest truth is, I think I’m just not a visual person.
When I read, no matter how vivid and detailed a character description is, I don’t see it. Significant things, like the absence of an eye or a disfiguring scar, those stick in my memory, but the whole thing doesn’t glom together in my head.
Sometimes I try extra hard and take note of how an author has described a person. I’ll stop reading and concentrate for a moment until the visual pieces come together in my brain. It takes some time and is far from effortless. And then I mentally stare at the resulting image for a moment, then promptly toss it aside.
I have heard others say they are like this, that they, too, don’t fully process character descriptions. But most of these people exchange the author’s description with their own. Or so I’ve heard. Their minds flush out all sorts of physical characteristics that haven’t even been hinted at on the page and the end result is a highly detailed, specific portrait.
I don’t do that, either.
When I stop and think about it, this seems very strange. Unnatural, even. I wonder if I am missing out on some part of the reading/writing experience. I wonder about the wiring that has made me this way.
But I don’t mind. And I don’t think it makes me any less of a writer or reader. The world I delve into when I read and write is rich and bright and full of words that speak to me more than a character portrait. I like it that way.
What do you see when you read?
P.S. Characters will not be depicted in any great detail, if they are depicted at all, on my book covers. In case you didn’t catch on.