Treating a RO's physical description as a mere suggestion

More than likely. I think it’s interesting how much our mental experiences can differ without most of us knowing or ever considering. It would be very exciting to conduct more research into how our individual mental spaces affect how we experience a written story.

For me personally, if I imagine a character at all, it’s vague and fragmented. There’s no color but if I’m aware of the color it could be mentally labelled, just not visible. What’s most salient to me is potential differentiating factors.

So, despite the fact that it may seem like Isaia and Elwin are quite different people, to me the most obvious differentiating factor is Elwin’s green eyes. Which I can’t even see in my mind, but I just have a “green eye” mental label.

That’s suprisingly apt though because Isaia and Elwin do look quite alike, however they are still clearly two very different people and don’t overlap within my mental imagery. Isaia is much more stern, both in looks and personality, while Elwin is very pensive and, um, sort of smoother in his features. They also have different nationalities; Isaia is italian, Elwin is welsh.

What’s more important to me though is the general impression or “vibe” they give off. Say someone illustrated Isiai to look very much like I imagine Elwin, it wouldn’t matter as long as the correct impression is there, and the characters are very different in their expressions despite fleeting similarities.

As a guy who’s almost completely blind, I’m probably in the minority here when I say that I really appreciate it when authors give descriptors. Sure, I can probably think of something based off of personality but when there’s already a detailed description laid out, it’s enough for me to fill in the blanks to picture the characters fully. The descriptions in themselves don’t affect my preferences of characters but they do the same thing detailed setting descriptions do, help me visualize the story in as much detail as possible.


At this point I can’t think my male MC and Nat in Weyhaven as looking like anyone other than Arthur Darvill and Gal Godot, no matter how I try. I also find it impossible with her gruff personality not to think of Morgan as played by Stephanie Beatriz because of her role in Brooklyn Nine Nine. :sweat_smile:

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I also picture Nat as Gal Gadot.

My female MC and Mason are Florence Pugh from Black Widow (only with really dark red hair) and Jason Momoa (slightly scruffy, not overly hairy bearded). JM has always been Mason to me and always will be–the man looks like the embodiment of wolf (and a bit bear, too).

I have almost no imagination so someone could spend 3 pages describing the appearance of a character, place, object, etc. and in my head it would all remain simply a blank space. The only exception is in action scenes (and even then it is a bit vague)

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I’m definitely not in the minority here, but I tend to imagine characters more blobbish than with specific features.

I do find it kind of frustrating (re:upsetting) that people are undoing characters race, and or/ lightening characters skin tones to find them more attractive. I feel like that’s a really loaded things to do. In my opinion, it’s absolutely worthwhile to sit down and imagine why (whether it’s ‘oh, even if the author describe this male character’s hair as long–I immediately chop it off in my mind’ or something more disturbing) your vision of attraction is so narrow.

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@Jjcb and @Anna_B, my response is more specifically at the things that you said about Farrah, but I think this is something that can be passively condoned when authors/readers alike take physical description as a mere suggestion when relating to characters with marginalized identities. I don’t think it’s just a tad insensitive; I think it’s deeply problematic.

On the one hand fantasy, but on the other hand, the very real reminder that what brokers our attraction to physical appearances is rooted in systems that have very real implications. If you are white-washing a character, just in your mind or on a public platform, then that’s weird! When I saw this topic, I immediately kind of went ‘I hope that that’s not what people are doing’, while also acknowledging that this is often what people do when they make fanfic/fanart but change the appearance because they just can’t imagine a protagonist with brown eyes/brown skin/big noses/ because it doesn’t fit for them. What does that mean!? What are you saying?! You should unpack that, because it’s deeper than just ‘attraction’.

My reasoning for not seeing Farah as the correct skin color had less to do with me not being able to picture it, and more to do with some of what the narrative shows. The Wayhaven Chronicles are supposed to take place in an United Kingdom-esque region, and Farah is explicitly noted to have an American accent as well. My perception of Farah was based more on my lack of attention to her (and the rest of Unit Bravo’s) appearance when it is shown during their introductions.

So, I don’t believe your point applies for my case in particular. That said, I am well aware of the situation you present. It is true that there exists some deeper reasons as to why some people are… ‘conditioned’ to be more attracted to people of a specific skin color. As my profile shows, I’m Dominican. My country has this exact issue you bring up (Antihaitianismo - Wikipedia), and it is something we are not exactly dealing with very efficiently.

I don’t really have an issue picturing people with brown eyes or brown skin. I have both. Most of my partners have also been people of color. And as my comment brings up at the end, I also have characters that are PoC in my own story. Nova is Latino, Seeker is from the MENA region, Mars is African-American, and Latooni is American-Japanese. A rather significant portion of my own WiP’s cast are minorities.


I don’t think I really understand your first point because I don’t see why region/accent would make Farrah one race or the another in the UK and America.

It might not apply to your situation. I did go to your page (after responding to the first post I saw by you), and I can only really go by what you’ve said here. But first, thank you for your link. It did provide information about something I don’t know as much about. However, I think we can both agree that anti-blackness (specifically) and colorism (more generally) is prevalent in most regions. Regardless of where you’re from/ what the dominant traits are, that doesn’t mean that these same biases/same blindspots can’t be shared.

Responding to your specific initial post, you said that you said that you imagined Farrah initially as white (why?), and that upon realizing that she wasn’t you still have trouble picturing her as Black (at least this was how I interpreted what you said about the insensitivity. If I’m wrong, then I’m just wrong and I’ll definitely step back on your account). And I guess for me it’s the white default and stickiness the thing that I found insidious in your post. I don’t really get why white is the default, and why unimagining it as the default is difficult (I mean I do, but you know). And I mean less to argue you down about this point, but instead about how this general topic can intersect with something much less lax, which is what I perceived in your post.

I think there’s something to the way that The Wayhaven Chronicles approaches race, or rather doesn’t approach race, that we could meet at, but I don’t get the impression that’s what’s happening here. Why is this with Farrah and not M or N or A? Maybe you did have this same issue with M, N, and A. I don’t know, but you specifically referenced Farrah and that’s it. Do you see what I mean?

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Responding to myself, because I did want to say that I did see what you said about your own characters in the post.

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Hmm while i do not think a characters appearance is an integral part of their character(generally i mean, there are some exceptions i,e when how they look/what species they are play a part in their actual story like say Javik from ME), it is nonetheless a part of them so i cant say ive ever made “tweaks” to how they look in my head. Also the idea of changing someones looks(even a fictional character) to fit your taste is kinda off putting for me, especially if their someone else’s creation. Generally the only ones i feel comfortable doing so with is my own char’s.

A big part of how i read/enjoy literature is theater of the mind so i personally like it when the author is very descriptive/exact in how they describe their characters(pictures are even better) because i have a difficult time actually imagining things without these things.Without them the char’s are kinda just silhouettes in my head until im provided them.


I really struggle with visualizing physical descriptions and unless some appearance details are found somewhere in the stats menu, I will probably forget about them unless they are frequently brought up or just very distinctive (scars, beards, unnatural colors).

Since I like glasses on most people, I will probably add a pair in my mind even if the RO in question has the eyes of a hawk. Same with tattoos and body jewelry unless the characterization makes it clear that it’s something the character wouldn’t go for. Another thing: If the RO is gender-flippable, I often prefer to imagine, for example, short hair on the ladies and long hair on the guys because I find it more attractive and visually appealing.


I definetley do not pay much attention to descriptions from the author, and imagine the chars more freely, sometimes a description is sinking in more than Others and sometimes I interpret a description different than meant by the author. For example I imagined M from wayhaven Not as dark as they seem to be, because I matched their skintone with the greek people I know. That F from wayhaven was black was something I remembered, so I have linked His tone to that from our neighbours.

But I will always see Jaime and Woody from ZE:SH as Poc and I do not even know why.


61% of the people in the United States are white. 81% of the people in the United Kingdom are white. The US does have a significant minority population, and one that will hopefully continue to grow as their government realizes immigration isn’t a satanic evil, but both it and the UK are majority white countries. When I think of the US, I would naturally go towards what’s the most common race/appearance in the country, just like if someone brought up China, I’d think of Asian (in this specific case, chinese) people.

It’s just the most simple assumption to make.

Yes, I certainly don’t disagree with that. Here, we still have some mental remnants of ‘marry a white person to better your station’, coming off of the slavery period and the more recent dictatorship. It’s a horrid position, and one that shouldn’t find hold anywhere. PoC do have to deal with this contemptible idea that they’re less preferable as a partner or just a person in general because of their skin color. Some of the specific traits may differ on where they’re from, but the bias remains the same.

That’s fair. It did happen with the whole cast, to be clear. I brought up Farah specifically because she’s the character I romance, and thus she’s naturally the one that first comes to mind regarding the series. It’s something I’ve fixed in my mental view of the cast by now, but it’s not something that applied to one sole member of the main characters.


In my defense, my comment was about needing the characters description as soon as I meet them. I don’t picture F darker because I didn’t get a description until the second time I saw him. I automatically pictured him lighter. Maybe that’s a bad thing, but it’s not like I intentionally whitewashed someone because I wanted them to be more attractive


While Wayhaven does describe the characters when they’re introduced to the player, it’s important to distinguish the difference between not being attracted to someone and being prejudiced against them for the same reasons.

While there can potentially be deeper issues as to why some people might be less likely to attracted to certain physical traits, the reasons which may be less than positive, that doesn’t make someone’s attractiveness preferences less valid. Again, lack of attraction =/= prejudice.

As far as changing an authors’ characters, that’s a bit of a mixed bag for me. Unless their race or appearance specifically plays a role in the story, then it doesn’t bother me as much as it might in a situation where it does impact the story. Obviously most characters are written with a specific appearance in the author’s mind, but that doesn’t mean they can’t necessarily work even if their appearance is changed.


I suppose I am in the very small minority that works making art, specifically illustration for concept art, so character descriptions to my imagination is like dousing a flame with diesel. I have fun reading descriptions, of all kinds. It’s like taking a stroll inside the author’s imagination. I just devour whole pages of it, and if people ask me “now draw what I just described you”, well, I do. shrugs But for me it is also no problem to (haha, I love how Tarlonniel described this) ‘mod lite’ things and tweak… For example? Everyone talks about red, but nobody sees the colour red the same way with our eyes, because everybody’s eyes is different. We may also perceive it differently because it reminds us of something we like. So everyone has a different opinion on it, or even on which tone of red is their favourite for a myriad of reasons. So I tweak to surround myself with my favourite tones from all hues. It’s certainly still the author’s world, but the custom shader is mine.

That being said. I’m also okay with having very, very loose descriptions. With an interesting narrative, my mind tends to fill in the blanks, and sometimes that might even work better for certain kinds of story.


I feel like we might just completely disagree on this topic. Generally, not being attracted to someone doesn’t mean you’re prejudiced against a group. However, prejudice can absolutely inform your attraction.

Like, if you play any interactive fiction, and you never pick an Asian character to romance because they’re ‘just not to your preference’ (not even you don’t find Asian people attractive, but you never pick an Asian character. Like 90% of 100% of time), that’s most likely informed by a prejudice that you have. I’m not supposing that everyone needs to be attracted to everyone. That would just be silly. However, I think that a lot of people use preferences to veil/circumvent discussing the prejudices that inform their attraction. Lack of attraction may not be prejudicial, but if it is I consider it unvalid, and wholeheartedly gross.