The other day, Brent randomly asked me: “When you picture characters while you’re reading…do you picture them as the models on the book’s cover if it’s a picture of people?”
And I had to stop and think for a couple of minutes. Do I? Do other people? Am I supposed to? These are interesting questions! So I thought I’d center a discussion post around his really insightful conversation-starter (see? Even though he’s not really into reading, he definitely still supports the whole “bookworm” thing).
I think that the answer, for me personally, is…sometimes yes and sometimes no. But I’m not really sure why.
Take, for example, the Pushing the Limits series. None of the cover models really look anything like the people I ended up picturing in my head while reading the books.
Sure, their hair color is right. But everything else? Not exactly what I had in mind. And for some reason, seeing those models on the covers before reading the books didn’t influence that! Whether it’s because the covers are really off or McGarry’s characterization is so great (I’m leaning towards that one), I was still able to make up my own ideas of what the characters look like, even though those covers are basically screaming: “Here, this is what you should be picturing.”
And I kind of like that! I don’t necessarily want to be shown exactly what the characters look like. A huge part of the reading experience is connecting with the text, using your imagination, and recreating the world of the book inside your own mind. Some publishing company telling me what I should be imagining kind of makes the process less pure in a way.
But just because I prefer being able to picture the characters on my own doesn’t mean that I hate it when I’m given a helping hand.
In the case of The Other Typist, I was actually having a little bit of trouble picturing Odalie, one of the main characters, who is actually pictured on this version of the cover. I think it was because she was just so mysterious. It was hard for me to get a feel for her, so I remember referring back to the cover image a few times while reading this book — to remember her intriguing eyes and 1920s modern haircut.
But with LoveLines, the reason I ended up picturing Bailey as the girl on the cover was because I just thought that the model matched up so perfectly with what I had in mind. I couldn’t have imagined her any different! I actually think that this is a really interesting example, because I actually didn’t picture Reese at all like his cover model. It was weird to have one be so right and the other be so wrong (at least in my head!).
I think that makes an important distinction — that it’s not always the author’s writing (like in Pushing the Limit’s case or possibly The Other Typist‘s) that affects how I picture the characters — because it’s not like Bailey’s characterization in LoveLines was so weak that I had to rely on the cover and Reese’s was so strong that I couldn’t ignore my own imagination.
I guess it really depends on a lot of different elements!
I do have to say, though, that I pretty much always picture the characters as their respective actors if the book ends up becoming a movie, whether or not I see the movie before or after reading the book. But that’s another discussion for another time!
So you tell me! Do you picture a book’s characters as its cover models (if applicable)? Do you ever picture a character completely differently? What do you think affects whether or not the character you picture looks like the cover? If you’re like me — sometimes yes and sometimes no — do you picture one (your own vs. the cover models) more often than the other?