Some writers are fortunate. They get an idea and immediately know, I mean really know, who their main character is. They see him or her in their heads. They know every facial feature including that little dimple that appears only when their character smirks. Their character is alive in their imagination, and they make the character come alive for the reader because he or she is real to them.
I am not that writer!
My characters need a face before I can begin. Sure I can go through the process of sketching out my character. I can even create a character profile. I call it the police line-up view or the 9-1-1 suspect description. It goes like this: male or female; white, black, Hispanic, or Asian; age; height; weight; hair color; clothing starting from the top to the bottom, outside to inside; distinguishing features such as tattoos; and name if you have it. There it is! The basic description of a character.
Of course, it can be more in-depth and include: siblings, parents, likes, dislikes, favorite sports, favorite hobbies, attitude toward school--parents--friends--the world, opinion of self, awards, secret passions, girlfriends or boyfriends, hometown, and all the other things writers need to know about their character before they sketch him or her out to the world by their words. Whew! Just thinking of all those things makes me tired. Granted, I do some of that. But, that is not where I start. And, where is that? Why in the pages of magazines and books of course. Yep. I said, magazines and books.
When I have an idea for a book (and I have many), I head to the library--my library, that is. I have dozens of old magazines and hundreds of books. Since my new novel is set in mid-1800 Arizona, and my main character is a girl, I begin by perusing history books. I look for snippets of descriptions, character traits, movements, reactions, and personality. Just one or two words are enough to jolt my imagination to begin forming my character's face. I keep a notebook filled with these words and phrases, and I refer to it often. When I find the right one, I go for a walk and let my mind roam. If that doesn't work, I sleep on it because I know my main character will walk through my dreams.
I know this method is not for everyone, but it works for me. To prove it, Rachel, the main character in my novel in progress began her existence with this single phrase, "she turned her face to the wind until her tears were no more." From this, my mind created a 13 year old young woman who is strong, loyal, determined, and a little fragile. But, you'll have to wait until I finish this book before you see if my system for giving my character a face works as well as I said it does.