Using Images to Capture a Character

I opened my inbox this morning and found an interesting blog post by Christi Corbett. She had written about pictures that inspired her, got her into the mindset of her characters and set the scene. She asked, “How about you?” Do you use images for writing inspiration?

My answer was a loud, “Yes!”

I’m a very visual person. When I’m writing dialogue, I can picture in my mind the character, what he/she’s wearing, their dialect, stance and hand motions. I know when an eye brow goes up or a lip is curled. My characters scratch their heads and their butts and put their hands in their pockets.

I often sketch my characters to better see their faces. Sometimes, I stumble upon an image that cries out, “I’m Anna!” I snatch it, print it and stare at it when I’m writing.

For example, last year, while googling my name to see where it appeared on the Internet, I came upon a page

containing a black and white image. The intense stare spoke to me. It said, “Hello there. I’m Tam. It’s been a hard day at the castle. My brother’s being a wingnut again, the lords are asking for tighter security and the plumbing is backed up in the guard house. I just need a cold one to relax.”

I saved the photo to my hard drive, naming it ‘Tam Mulryan’.

Searching the page further, I discovered it was Gerard Butler’s face I had stolen. But why was my name on the same web page as his? Oh, I had written a review of Nym’s Island several years ago and he was one of the stars. Little did I know that little review would link me with the photo I’d use to identify with one of my characters.

I googled Gerard Butler’s name to see if I could find Tam in another setting. Jackpot! Butler had starred in Timeline, a movie in which the characters travelled back in time to the age of sword fighting and castles. I found Tam in rugged

clothing with longer hair and a thicker beard. Almost perfect.

While living at the castle, Tam was clean cut with a short beard, but while hiding out on the trail, he’d become a little rough around the edges with longer, shaggier hair. The intense stare in this new photograph was perfect for Tam. He thought more than he spoke.

Printed and posted on the wall behind my computer, this photograph of Tam keeps an eye on my writing, making sure I write him true to character. Whenever I need inspiration for him, I just stare into his eyes and he lets me know what I must do.

7 thoughts on “Using Images to Capture a Character

  1. Have never done this, but it sounds very interesting. My characters seem to live only in my mind and now that I think of it I tend to relate to them more on an emotional level rather than picturing how they look. I keep a vague sense of their physical appearance in my head but nothing so detailed. As Christi mentioned in her comment I’d be more apt to have photos of buildings and places handy as this seems to be very inspirational for me.


    • Last year, I created an image of one of my characters. I used pencil and coloured pencils, so the details in the art piece had to be drawn, outlined, coloured and shaded. Every body part had to be focussed on at least four times. Shaping the fingers, the knees, the chin and every other body part, gave me an intimate glimpse into his nwyfre (pronounced NOO-iv-ruh). By the time the picture was completed, I was so attached to the character, I wanted to crandle him as if a babe. I would stand in front of dragons to protect him. That picture hangs behind my lap top, reminding me our intimate relationship. From fingers to heart: it is done with our writing as well as our drawings.

      Everyone has their way of connecting their heartstrings to their characters. Without them, they are just cardboard cutouts.

      Thanks for commenting, Laura.


  2. Wow those are some great pictures!

    I’m so glad there are other writers out there who print out and hang pictures near their workspaces. I forgot to mention this in my post, but I’ve also got a stack of antique photos that I refer to as well. They are anything from old houses, scenic shots, and a picture of a “handsome” man that I use to reference my main character’s father.

    I also have a lot of props nearby; anything from a wax seal on an envelope to a silver comb/brush set.

    Thanks so much for the link and for checking out my post!

    Christi Corbett


    • I have a few old photographs, too, I picked up from yardsales. The quality is excellent. They may turn up on a book cover some day.

      I like using props to get into character, too. Some I have for every day use, like a spurtle: a Scottish wooded ‘spoon’ that dates back to at least the fifteenth century. By using it, the tool stays fresh in my mind, so when my character wants to stir somthing, she grabs a spurtle.

      I’ve been a big fan of fantasy for a long time, so I’ve gathered quite a collection: sword, daggers, amulets, horse shoes, lanterns, sconce, blacksmith tools, etc.

      I’m toying with the idea of making a full mediaeval costume.

      Thanks for visiting.


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