The Faceless Characters That Inhabit My Bookshelves // On Facecasting


You know when you read a book, you usually end up playing out the scene in your head — what do the characters look like? And that’s not just general descriptions. Can you actually picture their face?

If so: ARE YOU A MAGICIAN? How do you work this wondrous piece of imagination? I never picture real people. I hate facecasting. I’m pretty much never satisfied with an actor — I mean, there are good ones, but they’re never perfect. Instead of describing from a photograph when I write, I’ll piece together descriptions from people I know until I find what I want.

I like to get the feeling of a character being there. Like, Levi from Fangirl — he’s just a sort of perpetually hazy and sunny presence in my imagination. For some reason, even though I hate to picture people, I can work with illustrations way more easily. Where I can’t find a perfect facecast, I often can find my ideal fanart. And when I play out scenes from a novel, it will always have the vague idea of a place I’ve been before. Example: I will always picture school halls as my junior hall. ALWAYS. I have no idea why. And for any book set in US high school, my brain will probably pick a room from a bad high school movie/possibly a Disney channel show and uses that. Because obviously those are accurate representations of school. I DON’T EVEN KNOW. Sometimes my brain just conjures up random buildings and rooms to feed my reading habits and I don’t even know where they come from. Everything just sort of blurs together.

Buuut I think that sometimes the movies/art become meshed with the books in my mind. I’m kind of upset the Harry Potter movies got to me before I read the books, and I’m upset for kids reading them now — because I defaulted to a weird blurred face of Daniel Radcliffe. I’d rather be able to headcanon characters myself! Even if, like, I don’t headcanon them whilst reading, because I am a Strange Person with invisible people walking around in her head as she stares at pieces of trees. When a series become so intermeshed with the image of someone (or when they have a ton of faces on the covers, yeugh) the image becomes intermeshed with the character. *nods* If I enjoy a romance in the book, I’ll probably be less into it when I watch the movie. My brain doesn’t like seeing people in images that it has already seen in words.

I don’t know why I have such a disconnection between the appearance and actions of fictional characters. I’m a rather visual person; I always picture my friend’s faces rather than their names. I think I often find it hard to get past a first impression… Maybe that’s why I enjoy books so much. Because you’re connecting empathetically with the characters right from the very start. (It’s not that I don’t sympathise with real people, because I do. It’s just difficult to see into someone’s soul at first meeting, you know?) (Not that the reader always experiences that in books. But it’s closer to that than to meeting your average stranger on the street.)

How do you picture fictional characters? Do you have a dream cast for your favourite book? Writers, what do you think of describing from images?

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