In the Eye of the Beholder

I never provide detailed descriptions of my characters in my novels. When I read, I rarely pay attention to character descriptions and decide for myself what they look like based on their personalities. Ridiculous, I know. People hardly ever resemble their personalities in real life, but this is fiction, and I think readers have enough imagination to fill in the blanks I leave. If you’re like me, you prefer it that way.

With that in mind, I was delighted when I saw the cover for Etiquette and Murder and the characters were essentially cartoons. The artist took a lot of liberty with the descriptions. Frances was perfect, but who was that guy? It couldn’t be George Hazelton, Frances’ partner in crime-solving and potential love interest. Aside from the fact that he was poisoning Frances’ drink, one of the few details I mentioned about him was that he had no facial hair. The man on the cover had a Snidely Whiplash mustache and a goatee. I decided he was just a generic villain and let it go.

George appears again on the cover of my third book, Mischief and Murder—this time with a handlebar mustache! Why?! I give the artist much more specific details about what the characters look like than I give readers, so why does she insist on facial hair? I had already made several changes to that cover and felt a little insecure about asking for one more. I mentioned it to my editor and decided to let him decide if the mustache stays or goes. He let it stay.

To be clear, I have nothing against facial hair. My husband alternates between clean-shaven and a goatee and I like both looks. But in my mind, George doesn’t have any. So, when I saw the cover of book four, First Wives and Murder, I was thrilled to see a clean-shaven George! Halleluiah! I wouldn’t have to go to battle this time.

Then, in one of my historical groups, I saw this photo and thought, well look at that, it’s George with a beard! And I liked it! The cover artist had it right all along. Maybe I should have trusted her imagination.  I might have him grow a beard in book five but I’m afraid she’ll end up throwing that book at me!

Readers, what do you prefer? Do you want to know exactly what the writer thinks the characters look like or would you rather use your imagination?

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