What does a hero look like?
A recent Valentine poll amongst romance writers in the UK put Jonny Depp as the top favourite for a hero role model. Pierce Brosnan had the distinction of appearing in that poll, as well as topping the one for ladies who had reached the age of discretion. Looks like the tall, dark, handsome thing is still going strong.
It got me wondering what readers have in mind when they pick up a book and first meet the hero. Is he a favourite actor, or a man you might meet in the supermarket, or maybe a fantasy figure, who exists only in your imagination?
If he’s a werewolf, a vampire or a being from another world, then maybe he does need to be out of the imagination – depends on the kind of people you get at your local supermarket, I suppose.
The question I’m trying to get at, I think, is what do we expect in a hero and what do we ‘see’ when we open a book? Are we looking for a man we might meet or the exact opposite?
At lot of authors I know have a particular actor in mind when they’re casting their heroes – Hugh Jackman seems to be another big favourite. Often for me an actor will be a kick off point – the hero of my current work in progress (I use the word progress lightly – a snail would be moving faster than that manuscript at the moment!) is a dishwater blond, which is unusual for me as my fellas are usually straight out of the TDH mould. I know that the start point for Devlin was the actor Daniel Craig, but Devlin as he appears in my head now doesn’t look anything like him.
Thinking about this piece and analyzing my casting approach I’ve realised that some of the time my heroes don’t have faces. That sounds really weird, but often when I’m writing what I get from both hero and heroine is an overwhelming sense of feeling – pain, desire, confusion – not a particular ‘look’. Who they are is more important than how they appear at a given moment.
As a reader, I often find that I have a totally different picture in my head for hero and heroine to the one that the author has presented – to have the heroine described as a brunette, when in my head she’s a blonde, has brought me up short on more than one occasion. I guess that it’s a bit like that old joke about the scenery being better when you listen to the radio.
How much detail does a reader want about the way the girl and the guy look – do we prefer to fill in our own blanks? He has to be hot – but does who he is matter more that what he looks like?
What are we looking for when we read? Are we looking for escapism or a role model for Mr Right? He might be good for a steamy affair - but would you actually want to live with that guy in the book you currently can’t put down?
I’d love to know how other writers go about creating the man of all our dreams, and how readers respond to a book. Whose face do you see when you turn the page?