IMAGE: Yours and your characters

Image: Yours and your characters

Yesterday I participated in a fashion show for a local organization I belong to. Prior to the show, I put on makeup, including eye shadow, and polished my toenails. As I was doing so, I started thinking about image. In many ways, I think image is similar to voice. It’s a part of us, part that makes up our character. Most of the time we don’t think about it, it can be changed, and if we do change our image, people usually notice.


With me, putting on makeup is a change. I rarely do that. On the other hand, I know a lot of people who would feel naked without their makeup. I wear a lot of browns, blacks and pure colors. Put me in pastels and I’m uncomfortable. (I also rarely wear green or stripes, so the outfit I modeled yesterday didn’t feel like ME.)

The pictures I use on my web site, as my Facebook profile, and on book covers definitely reflect me. If I am wearing any makeup is usually just lipstick, and I’m usually dressed quite casually, sometimes holding a glass of wine. They’ll also often include a dog, horse, or boat. At one time I thought I needed one of those “professional” pictures, so I had some taken. They applied the makeup and dressed me in a variety of outfits. The pictures came out great…but they weren’t me. That is, every time I looked at one, it was like looking at a stranger. Even after paying for several, I couldn’t use them. They didn’t feel real.

When creating our characters, we can also use how they dress, how much makeup they use or don’t use, and what their interests are to indicate their character. In fact, this is a great way to SHOW character rather than TELLING the reader. For example, simply being a farm girl doesn’t mean our heroine wouldn’t use makeup, but if an emergency occurs and suddenly our heroine must be in the hero’s presence without any makeup on, how does she act and think? Does she fret about her lack of makeup? Try to hide from the hero? Or does she realize he looks at her with love in his eyes whether she’s wearing makeup or not?

I don’t have to tell my reader my character values money and image above other attributes. All I need to do is have her drive an expensive car, dress her in high fashion, have her refuse to be seen shopping at Walmart, and have her have a fit when a child places a muddy hand on her sleeve. (Obviously, this isn’t going to be the heroine in a romance, but I might make her the victim in my next mystery.)

I also think the pictures we use for our publicity can tell the reader a lot about us and the books we write. Joanna Campbell Slan writes wonderful cozies ( and her picture, I think, lets you know you’re in for a fun read. Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch, and recent Pulitzer Prize winner, however, doesn’t project that same image, and it’s not surprising that her stories have a darker element. I’m not sure if Nancy Gideon ( meant to wear a blood-red outfit and jewelry for her web site picture, but the color certainly fits her vampire books. And I love how Jennifer Greene ( is leaning forward in her web site picture. The description of her books is real issues, warm characters, common-life humor, and page-turning romance and suspense. Her shirt and pose convey that same warm, friendly message.

So how do you feel about your PR pictures. Are they conveying the message you want to convey?


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6 Responses to IMAGE: Yours and your characters

  1. Diane Burton says:

    When I saw the picture of you in that green striped outfit, I thought that can’t be Maris. Very out of character for you. Loved how you drew on your experience for a writing lesson on portraying character. While I’m not crazy about my professional photo, I like it better than some candid shots. Can’t have everything, I guess. 🙂

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks, Diane. I’ve had people tell me it looks great on me. Maybe so, but I wasn’t comfortable in it. It would be one of those outfits you buy on a whim and then it sits in your closet until you finally give it away.

  2. Melissa Keir says:

    I used to model in high school. It was funny to see what their thoughts were about my image. They dressed me in wholesome looks not the sexy outfits that other models wore. It frustrated me at the time.

    I had boudoir photography done for my website. I wanted to show that sexy side which I don’t really see in any photos of me. Luckily I didn’t realize how important it was and my photos are memorable.

    What a great post! I tweeted.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks for the retween, Melissa. I love the picture you have on your web site. It definitely tells me to expect some steamy scenes when I buy one of your book, and your head shot gives a nice blend of your sweetness with your sexy side.

  3. Paula says:

    When I saw you in the outfit yesterday, my first thought was, “Cute outfit, but the hat doesn’t really go, does it?” I guess I liked the whole look, but wasn’t sure it was ‘you.’ I see you too often in outfits just as you described in the blog post.

    I don’t have a book with an author’s photo, but I think the shots on my fb and linkedin pages show me as I really am. They’re posed, not candid, but I’m wearing what I usually wear and they show me how people are used to seeing me.

    So what is my image? heck if I know.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I agree, Paula, I think those pictures show YOU. I’ve liked all of the FB profile pictures you’ve posted. And you’re right about the outfit. It didn’t feel right. Cute, but not me. But I did love the sandals…just not the price.