Friday, February 19, 2010

Waiter, There's a Movie Star in My Romance Novel

One of my pet peeves in books is when an author describes the hero or heroine’s appearance by referencing a celebrity, as in, “he bore an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt,” or “her friends always told her she looked a lot like Nicole Richie.”

For one thing, I think it’s lazy. If your hero is blond and handsome with a killer grin, then say so. If your heroine is elfin with a flair for boho chic, then say that. Besides, you’re running the risk that some of your readers won’t know who you’re talking about. Okay, most everyone on the planet who can read knows who Brad Pitt is, but very few celebrities have achieved his level of fame. I was surprised to find that someone in my office didn’t know who Nicole Richie is – but then again, not everyone lives on the Internet like I do.

You want to avoid “dating” your book. Think about the last time you read a book which mentioned a specific consumer item* that’s no longer popular, or a celebrity who’s passed away or is no longer in the public eye. You’re reading merrily along, really enjoying the story, and then the author says the hero’s got dimples and stubble like Don Johnson. And the story screeches to a halt in your head.

If you’re under thirty, you go, “Who?” If you’re over thirty (okay, okay, forty), you go, “Oh yeah – I’d forgotten about him. Damn, he was pretty hot, wasn’t he? Hmm. What is it about Melanie Griffith that sucks all the hotness right out of a man?” And then you start humming the tune from Miami Vice (which, by the way, isn’t easy to do), and you shudder as you remember your hair style circa 1985, and the hot senior who drove that TransAm, and…congratulations, you’ve been pulled completely out of the story. Even if you get back into it, there’s now a distance that didn’t exist before.

Maybe the biggest reason it bugs me, though, is that I don’t want to be told how to picture a character. As it happens, I always envision celebrities as characters in the books I read, but I do it involuntarily. I don’t open a book thinking, “Okay, I’ll picture Clive Owen as the hero,” but if the hero is tall and dark and rugged, not classically handsome, Clive will just pop into my head. That’s fine – that’s how my overactive imagination has been reading books since I was a girl.

I want to be told what a character looks like, how he or she dresses and moves. But I don’t want the author telling me who to picture in the role. I read that the hero is lithe and blond, I imagine Alexander Skarsgard (actually, I imagine Alexander Skarsgard a lot anyway.) Then the author says he looks like Orlando Bloom and I go, um….no. Don’t think so. Orlando’s a bit emo for my tastes, and now the hero’s gone emo on me, and that’s probably not how the author wrote the character.

Sometimes it happens all on its own. I read JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books. My favorite Brother is Vishous. Somehow, at some point, Vishous started looking like a character Eric McCormack played in a TV series fifteen years ago. Clay Mosby was the anti-hero of Lonesome Dove: The Series, and McCormack played him with long curly hair and a full beard. He was hot – way hotter and more macho than in any other role I’ve ever seen him play. Not bulky enough for Vishous, and the hair is too long, but still – that’s the image I got, and that’s the image that stuck.

I know someone who thinks Vishous looks like Dave Navarro. Now, I think Navarro is hot, but he’s not exactly macho, and the Brothers are all about the macho. Then again, take pretty little Orlando Bloom again. The guy on the cover of Rehvenge’s book, Lover Avenged, looks kinda sorta like him, and now that’s what Rehv looks like in my mind. Which is all kinds of wrong – Rehv’s a big guy with a Mohawk. But in my head, he’ll always look like Legolas. Or Will Turner.

I’m sorry, Rehv.

I don’t invoke real people when I describe characters in my own book. Cade MacDougall, the hero of my first (and so far, only) full length book (submitted, but not yet accepted) also looks like Eric McCormack-as-Clay-Mosby, and again, I didn’t really do it on purpose. He sorta popped up like that. Lark Manning, the heroine of Kiss and Kin, looks like Olivia Wilde, who plays 13 on House. Taran looks like the model on the cover of Lynn Viehl’s Dark Lover. But I wouldn’t actually write that in the books, because lots of people would have no idea who I’m talking about, and people like to cast books for themselves.

Who am I to argue with them?

*And don’t get me started on the habit some writers have of dropping brand names every other page)


オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meg Benjamin said...

Lots of good points here, but sometimes it's part of someone else's characterization. If the heroine's best friend Binky thinks she looks like Julia Roberts, that tells you something about Binky too!

PG Forte said...

Call me weird, but I really like name dropping and slang in books. I know it dates them...but, for me, that's part of the appeal.

On the other hand, I have to agree with Meg. In Let Me Count the Ways, Claire talks about the various actors she'd cast (or wouldn't cast) to play Mike, if a movie were made of her life. Hey, she's a film star, it could happen. *g* Her choices of actors, and why she'd like to play opposite them, really says more about her feelings for Mike than it does about Mike at all.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Good points ladies! I tend to drop brand names into my stories but I do it with a purpose - if that brand name is important enough to the viewpoint character that they know it, that says something about the character. My guys don't usually notice her Jimmy Choos, they just notice her sexy heels. And yeah, describing someone as resembling an actor through another's viewpoint could do the same thing. I do like to picture my characters on my own though, so I try not to get too detailed when I describe them. I learned after a crit partner once didn't know who Josh Duhamel was that not everyone knows the guys I like to picture!

PG Forte said...

I once made the mistake of telling one of my CPs about the actor I was picturing as the hero in one of my stories. It happened to be a very sexy picture and the guy is not at all bad looking...did I mention I have a small biceps fetish?

However, he's made several exceedingly stupid movies (the kind that are only funny if you favor really juvenile humor, which I really don't) none of which I've seen, for good reason! Anyway...she's never let me forget it because, in her mind, the actor is so closely connected in her mind with the dumbass roles he's played that she can't find anything even remotely sexy about him.

Kinsey Holley said...

Ok, PG, I gotta know who it is - you can DM me if you don't want to say it in front of other people - I actually love dumb humor*, and I think Keanu Reeves' inscrutable beauty excuses his acting, so I won't make fun of you I promise!

*Farrelly brothers, Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, Mike Meyers - they all make me laugh. South Park, all of it...

Meg Benjamin said...

Is it different with classic actor, I wonder? To me, Steve McQueen is one of the all-time coolest actors ever. I know most of his movies, both good and bad, but it isn't his movies I think of when I hear his name--it's more the whole "Steve McQueenness" of his image. Same thing with Cary Grant or Paul Newman. And don't tell me younger readers don't know who these people are--iconic actors get passed down from one generation to the next.

Kinsey Holley said...

I didn't mean that all brand name dropping is bad - just when it's done page after page after page, and yes I'm looking at you, Ms. Fabulously Wealthy Author of Vampire Romance Series Which is Like Unto Crahck for Me and Millions of just gets a little old after a while.

OTOH, if I thought I could sell as many books as she has by dropping brand names, I'd do it in a flipping heartbeat...