I see people… Pretty people…

I am getting back into the writing groove (sort of) and I am determined to keep the novel going forward. It is inching its way slowly onwards. Part of that inching is to really get the character list pinned down and to work out, at least roughly, what happens.

Now, most of what I have written in the past has been sci-fi/fantasy and whilst I have had an idea in my head roughly what characters look like (hair colour, skin tone, eye colour at a push, tall/short etc), I have never felt the need to have an actual image of each character. It’s just not how I see people, or characters – when I read, I don’t have a photo in my mind of what they look like. I simply have the feel of the person. Ask me to describe someone I’ve met and know well and I can’t do it. Yet I know without a doubt who that person is. And that, up till now, has followed into my writing.

The current WIP however is set very much in the real world and, for some reason, I have found myself needing a physical image to build the characters around. I still know clearly in my head the feel of Bob, and his characteristics, mannerisms, and how he interacts with the world, but central to it all is a photo of Bob. Strange, and a little weird for me to get used to writing this way, but that’s how it’s flowing this time around.

To facilitate this, I have a folder of character bios in Scrivener with a mug shot for each character. These are mainly images I have found on the internet and gone “oh, that’s Bob!” or Lizzie. Or Sarah. Or John. Some are famous people, others are just random people. I just spent a merry ten minutes uploading these images to a private board on Pinterest so I have a quick and easy way of checking character info when I am away from Scrivener (i.e., at Wednesday Writing each week on the iPad), and it was quite an eye-opener to see them all spread out in once place.

I noticed a few things in particular:
1) I have a thing for brunettes. Most of my characters are brunette. There’s one ginger chap, a blonde guy, and a blonde girl. That’s it. The rest are various shades of brunette/black. Huh.
2) They are reassuringly of diverse ethnic backgrounds. It’s a small group, but they are not all white. I didn’t do this consciously either, it’s just how it worked out (go me!)
3) For the male characters, I seem to have gone for lots of actors (and one rugby player).
4) For the female characters, I seem to have gone primarily for non-actors.
5) They are all stupidly attractive. I really need to get some ugly/more normal people into this book!

And it is point 3 and 4 which really caught my attention. I seem to have no problem of taking a picture of Michael Fassbender and going “that’s Stuart” and building the whole Stuart character. The one photo becomes STUART’S photo. Nothing of Michael Fassbender, or the characters he has played, carries forward into the character I am writing.

I cannot, however, seem to separate the image of a female actor from the characters she has played, and so I can’t write my own character. I would love to have a character who looked a little bit like Tamara Taylor for example, because she is beautiful. But I can’t. Any character I try to write immediately becomes a really bad copy of Camille Saroyan in Bones.

I don’t know what conclusions to draw from this. I am sure there is a whole branch of some -ology which can explain our relationship to faces and actors and the characters they play and gender and identity… (ooh, that does sound fascinating!) but I don’t have the answers. It just struck me as interesting, that’s all.

2 thoughts on “I see people… Pretty people…

  1. I enjoyed this, particularly since I spent the past 5 days at a creative writing retreat and was amazed at how much one character took off after I figured out that he basically looks like Gerard Butler (from one of the films where GB looks good, anyway).

    I may expand on these thoughts more on a day when I’m not wiped out from 6 hours of driving (some in bad weather), plus unpacking, doing laundry, and writing another 575 words about that character. (Yum. No regrets there.)

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