Friday, February 19, 2010
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)
Posted by Kinsey Holley at 9:00 AM