Monday, June 2, 2014

Putting a face on your protagonist

I've wondered about the benefits of giving characters in my novels and short stories a face. I've seen many examples where authors put their protagonists' images on their book covers or in ads for their books, removing any mystery as to how the authors wanted them to appear. It seems romance writers do this the most.

To me, it appears there are tradeoffs in giving a fictional character a visual identity.  On the plus side, each time the character appears in the story, an image quickly appears in the reader’s mind.   The reader needs to do no more than turn to the cover to refresh the image.  Another benefit is the author can use the photo of the protagonist in advertising.  It helps brand the book, and to some extent the author, by repeatedly using the picture of the character in the ads.   In some cases, the models used for the cover photos of the protagonists actually become part of the author's marketing, showing up for book signings and appearing at other media opportunities.  While it might generate a buzz for media events, I personally find this a little eerie.

On the downside, providing an image of the protagonist limits the reader’s imagination. One of the more exciting responsibilities of an author is to build the images of their characters, giving them life.  Once a character’s image is presented to the reader on the cover or elsewhere, the mystery of what he/she looks like has been stolen. Another negative can be the cost. Obtaining photos and custom covers comes at a price, especially if professional models come into play.

So far, I haven’t provided images of my protagonists, but I thought I’d dip my toe in the water with a character from one of my short stories, Abandoned, included in IT GOES ON.  Milo appears here with this post.  If nothing else, he’s adorable.  I’d be curious about your thoughts on this subject.   


1 comment:

  1. This is a pretty interesting conundrum - I've been wondering the same thing on and off since I started work on my current project (a YA novel). Personally I've found that seeing the protagonist's face on a cover takes away from the appeal of the cover, which plays an important part in the draw for me to read the book it's representing. Probably your Milo cover is one of the few exceptions :P animals are cute enough to add to the appeal of just about anything!