I think it’s obvious that authors depict their characters in their minds. What they look like, how they think, their history, pros and cons, faults, etc. The author is telling the story and part of that story, is their control of the story. Controlling the reader! And part is controlling the vision-look of the characters. The more important the character the more this is usually chiseled. I say “usually” because you will find some famous characters who have NO background and they just waltz through a plot, but still they are physically described.
We can all agree that Ian Fleming did not want you to think that James Bond looked like Pee Wee Herman, or Sherlock Holmes looked like the morbidly obese Nero Wolfe. The Lone Ranger does not look like Don ‘Barney Fife’ Knotts. It would be detrimental to the story, the writer’s mission, to let reader’s minds wander off to these extremes. Controlling the story means also controlling the look of the characters on book covers and any illustrations inside books. This is a big “story control.”
It’s no secret that in my novels…
- Johann Gunther looks something like a mix between George Peppard and Rutger Hauer.
- Gunther’s detective business partner Jefe looks like a mix between Sammy Davis Jr. and Dan Inosanto.
- Jack Kellog looks something like a mix between Richard Boone and Vincent Price.
- Swoop Swellen looks something like a mix between Billy Jack and Robert Shaw.
These characterizations not being a secret, I am so often bored when I read, “Hey! That guy on the cover looks like Rutger Hauer.” Yawn…of course he does.
Cover-Art control: In this suffering age of “anyone” can write a book, and anyone can self-publish, I have seen many a disjointed cover. For just one of MANY examples I’ve seen a western, circa 1890s, use part of a very old, famous painting of the Alamo fight as it’s cover, centering on Davy Crockett swinging a flintlock rifle. This is so wrong and “rookie.” Your 1890s “Marshal Mark Billon” is NOT an 1830s coon-skinned, capped Crockett. Seriously. This is a quality control reflection on what to expect in the book.
This shallowness or depth and control of character development subject is a writing class, a single class, or even a semester. But, if you the reader sees book covers and feel the need to comment that “hey – that guy looks like Charlie Chaplin.” The character somehow, better, be Charlie-Chaplin-like in some way, in the story at least in looks, maybe not in deed. Or said author better be taking more of those writing classes.
Classes though are really not enough. Writing fiction starts from an art within artists, bolstered by training. You have to already have some lightning in a jar. Some artistic thunder. People without the storm within, who think they can learn writing fiction by only attending classes and seminars have a very tough, empty row to hoe.