Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

21 April 2010

So this is what my character looks like!

One way to visualize your characters more clearly and be able to give more precise descriptions is to collect photos of them . . . or, rather, people who look very much like them.

If your characters are unusually good-looking Americans or Europeans, it's fairly easy to find clear photos of faces. For example, look at:
✥ catalogs for upscale stores
✥ advertisements in upscale magazines
✥ fashion magazines
TV Guide
People magazine
Us magazine
✥ Web sites for TV shows and movies
✥ Wikipedia entries for actors and actresses such as:
      —"List of American Film Actresses"
      —"List of British Actors and Actresses"
✥ Web sites for modeling agencies; find lists of links here and here, or search on Google

Web sites for modeling agencies are particularly useful because you can sometimes specify details such as height or hair color and so drill down through the files to relevant photos more quickly. Be aware, though, that modeling agency sites tend to have bells and whistles that make them take forever to load and search.

If your characters are American or European and have bland, average to good looks, sources for photos include:
✥ ads and catalogs for stores such as Sears, Penneys, Kohls, and K-Mart
✥ most mail-order clothes catalogs

The most difficult characters to find portrait-style photos for are people of non-Western ancestry and people who do not meet current Western standards of attractiveness. I never found a satisfactory photo for the heroine in the first novel I wrote, who was short, plump, and dark.

I had more success with Like Mayflies in a Stream, which is set in ancient Mesopotamia. Although I never found any photo that looked like my conception of Gilgamesh, I found my heroine, Shamhat (at right), by Googling "Iraqi models" and following a link, and I found a model for Enkidu (below at left) when I saw football player Troy Aumua Polamalu on TV.

Here are several ways to find photos of interesting-looking or non-Western people:
✥ Web sites for modeling agencies for other countries; find lists here and here.
✥ Wikipedia entries such as:
      —Lists of Actors
      —List of Samoans
      —List of Native Americans
✥ Magazines for other cultures such as National Indigenous Times (a magazine for and about Australian aborigines) and Native Peoples Magazine (for and about American Indians)
✥ Query what you are looking for (for example, "Iraqi woman") on Google Images
✥ Query what you are looking for at a stock photo house (some lists of houses are here, here, and here.)
✥ Ads in city and regional magazines for professionals—lawyers, dentists, doctors, tax preparers, and so on
✥ Magazines and other publications that feature pictures of accomplished people, such as college alumni magazines, business magazines, and company annual reports
✥ Web site for Ugly Models modeling agency

Or create your own interesting-looking people by morphing photos together or transforming a photo at Web sites such as:
Morph Thing
Face of the Future

What sources for faces for your characters have you found that I have missed?


ninthmuse (roz m) said...

People may initially be turned off by the Ugly Models title, but it's really a mixture of ordinary folks and folks with features or body modifications you don't usually see in fashion magazines.

Shauna Roberts said...

ROZ, I found it a shocking insight into the mind of the modeling industry the first time I went to Ugly Models and saw that most of the models were average looking or better.

Bernita said...

Can't think of any.
Thank you for the terrific post!

Lana Gramlich said...

Great ideas. In a slightly different vein, back when I used to write I used to comb phone books for strange last names (to be used as fantasy first names.)

Shauna Roberts said...

BERNITA, thanks for stopping by.

LANA, that's a great idea for finding names for fantasy characters. I always struggle with names, and many of my characters start off their stories named A, B, or C.