The other day I was reading Son of Neptune by author Rick Riordan, a book I thoroughly enjoy reading, and wholeheartedly love. But the first time I read it, I got a little jolt. You see, when I read, I get a picture of a character in my head. Anything that breaks that picture once it's been formed pulls me out of the story.
I had an established idea of what the character Hazel, daughter of Pluto, looked like. I had that picture in my mind for quite a while. Then all of a sudden, Rick Riordan mentioned something that smashed my picture, making me stop reading for a moment.
Hazel had dark skin.
Now, I don't mind characters with dark skin. I like them just as much as any other sort of character. No, it wasn't the fact that her skin was dark that surprised me. It was the fact that it hadn't been pointed out until then.
Maybe I missed something. Maybe It was hidden in the text earlier and I hadn't read it properly. But the fact remained that until that moment, a fair way into the book, I never realised that she wasn't white skinned.
I think that in writing, getting the proper message across of a character's looks is quite important. It's not as important as a good plot and good character development, but I think it is a good idea to say early on if the character has trait like dark skin. As a person with light skin, I naturally assume that characters in stories are also light skinned. And the later you leave pointing it out, the more of a shock it'll be for the reader when they find out they were wrong.
What do you think? Do you visualise characters in your mind as you read? Do you find it a shock when someone springs a feature of the character on you that you weren't expecting?