Sunday, August 03, 2014

Visuals. Can someone explain it to me?

Have you ever been disappointed when your first see an actor/actress portraying a character from a well-loved novel – for example did your heart sink when you first saw Mr Darcy on screen, or Rochester. Perhaps Elizabeth Bennett wasn't quite as you imagined her, or Jane Eyre was too pretty/too plain.  I remember seeing a very early film version of Jane Eyre and being very disappointed in Rochester, because I had a clear idea of him in my mind, after reading (and re-reading) the book. And don't get me started on book covers, although the cover of my latest Harlequin Historical (left) is pretty close to how I imagine my heroine to look and I confess that when I was choosing a cover for the e-book version of A LADY AT MIDNIGHT (below), I deliberately avoided showing the heroine's face!

When I am writing a new book I always know what my hero and heroine will look like and I try to find a picture or a painting for my storyboard of someone who is a close approximation of each character. It might be an actor, or a model, or perhaps a portrait by Gainsborough or Reynolds.   They are never perfect, of course, nothing can ever match the person I see in my mind, but near enough to fire the imagination as I am writing.  I never like to disclose this model to anyone as I would prefer readers to form their own idea of the character based not just on looks but their personality, too.

I have been beavering away on a new historical for Harlequin and as usual I wanted to set up my storyboard with visuals of the main characters. In this case the heroine is initially considered "mousy" but in fact, when the hero (and the reader) gets to close enough to see her properly, he discovers her hair is the colour of honey and her eyes are grey-green, deepening in colour when she is rouse to anger or joy. And she may be quiet and shy, but she has a determination to match his own.

My hero, for once is not he dark, brooding type but fair. He is a Regency playboy, handsome, blue –eyed and fair-haired (well, light brown) . He has boyish good-looks, although with a certain world weariness about him. I searched online for a model/actor/celebrity who might fit the bill.  I am sure you can think of several, and after I am only looking for a look, an image to help me visualise my character. Once the book is written the reader has only the words to go on and will imagine their own perfect man.  So, at last I came up with a few pictures of a certain famous actor – arguably a modern day playboy, and I am sure many would call him boyishly good-looking.  I printed out a few pictures that were most like my hero and began to write, but something didn't fit. Whenever I looked at my storyboard I just couldn't "see" my hero. Then, while browsing online for something completely different, I came across a photograph of  a different actor, one I had used before but these stills were from a costume drama and I realised that this was my hero – or as near as a real-life person was ever going to get. It is only in certain looks, certain mannerisms that I can "see" my hero this actor, but it's enough for me to get on with my book.

So now I am happy. I can write my book, glancing occasionally at the pictures on my storyboard for inspiration, but I have no doubt that once the book is written, if I were to ask a reader just who, in real life, my characters most resemble, I would get many, many different answers!

How do you visualise your characters?  Do you have a favourite image, perhaps a friend, or a celebrity who is the hero/heroine in your mind when you start reading a new book, or does the character grow on you as you get to know them?  And why is it that however detailed the description on the page, we all see that character differently?

I'd love to know

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory 

THE SCARLET GOWN - Sarah Mallory - pub August 2014 Harlequin
A LADY AT MIDNIGHT - Melinda Hammond - available as an e-book on Amazon


Amanda said...

Interesting post. I tend to see my characters clearly, but their faces are always just a little bit hazy. I think this is because I like a little bit of mystery about them. It encourages me to get to know them better.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Me too, Amanda. I always remember the chocolate ads where they never showed the man's face, so viewers could imagine him just as they wished.

I also think looks aren't everything, it's character and personality that colours how we "see" someone.

Thanks for posting.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

For me, it's names. I have to have exactly the right names for my hero and heroine, otherwise my imagination just won't take off. And if the first chapter stalls, it's often because the name isn't quite right.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

I have had that, too, Elizabeth, but not so often. With my next Sarah Mallory, Never Trust a Rebel, I wasn't quite sure of the Heroine's name. I seemed to be calling her Ellen, Eloise or Helen as I typed. Then, half way through the book, I broke my wrist and the NHS doctor who treated me came in saying "Hi, my name's Elyse..." and that was it. I realised what my heroine needed to be called! Every cloud....