Identifying with Characters: For the love of covers

Before we delve into this blog post any further, let's highlight the point of this post:

1) Identifying with characters as a reader


2) Placing yourself into that character's situation AS the character


3) The cover enabling either 1 or 2 to happen with the reader

4) Figuring out which cover readers like more, depending on 1 and 2

I'm going to be upfront about this--there will not be an answer at the end. I'm simply posting this because I'm curious: Do most readers prefer to get into the MC's head and know everything about them as a best friend? Or do they prefer to step into the character's shoes as the character themselves? And how much of a part do covers have to do with this?

Let's go over a couple of examples (some more overused as others--keep in mind we are not reviewing the books; I chose these examples based only on the covers):

Example #1 

Twilight (Twilight, #1)

This book series is insanely popular because the reader can very easily step into the MC's shoes. Bella does not say much about her appearance throughout the series, and in staying vague about it, the reader can share those experiences in a more personal way if they choose. Being as the series is romantical and angst-y and all, what better way to ensure that the readers feel Bella's feelings on a more personal level than to keep from sticking everyone with a specifically described MC on the cover (or in the books as well)?

Example #2

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Logline: Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

From a reader's point of view, I'd say it's not too hard to get into the MC's head and feel she could be you. It's also pretty easy to imagine you could be the girl from the cover view... the picture of the couple is small enough that you notice the word LOVE more than you see the MC. (So if the picture were a close-up, and a dark, straight-haired reader saw a blonde with long, curly hair, would that keep her from wanting to read it?)

Example #3

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor

Logline: It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him.

This is my story.

A letter from nowhere.

In Stolen, the MC's thoughts take precedence over everything else. You have an idea how she looks, but it doesn't get too technical. Description and thought processes are what make everything in this book matter--therefore, feeling that you personally could be the one "stolen" makes the book (in my opinion). If a girl's face had been put on the cover, some readers wouldn't be able to identify with the situation as much.

Example #4

I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Logline: Girl Meets boy. Girl loses boy. Girl gets boy back... sort of.

You can see the guy holding the girl's hand... again, that hand on the left could be the reader's. If two faces were on the cover, the reader might be separated from the MC's emotional state a bit--they'd associate all the feelings with the face they saw, instead of how they would feel themselves in the same situation.

Example #5

Girl, Stolen

Logline: Please let me go, I won't tell.

Knowing the MC is blind and can't see anything as the events become more and more perilous is much more serious when you feel as though you've stepped into her shoes. You see what she sees (if you have read this, you'll know what I mean), vs. what could have been if an entire MC photo was on the cover and you simply read her thought process.

There are so many examples of full-on character covers, that I won't even bother trying to use my own example. Just go to this article called Uncovering YA Covers: How Dark Are They? (a post from back in 2010 regarding YA covers--it's actually a pretty interesting read) and you'll see how often a thin, (usually white) MC is wrapped around the book for all to see.

So, here's the question. In which books can you relate to the protagonist on a more personal level? I would guess the top five, not the hundreds shown in the examples on that blog post I shared. Here's my thinking on this: In seeing the person on the cover and knowing it is obviously not you, you feel distanced a bit.

Am I right? Does this even matter to people?

You tell me.

Would you, as a reader, prefer to get into the MC's head and know everything about them as a best friend would? 

Or would you prefer to step into the character's shoes as them? 

And how much of a part, if any, do covers have to do with this?


Steven J. Wangsness said...

Complicated question. I like discovering the character as I go along -- getting into his/her head by observing his/her actions. I don't know how the cover relates to that. However, a particularly vivid cover with a human depiction of the character could give you a prejudicial idea of the character.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Exactly... that's why I personally am not for full-on facial pictures for most books!

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Allen said...

Ooh, very interesting things to think about! I like the Stolen cover.

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah With Joy)