Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Holding Out For A Hero

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?


Anonymous said...

In the Nora Roberts book "Born in Ice", the heroine was a blonde, but I saw her as a brunette and no description was going to change that vision in my head. And yes, it did make me pause when her description came up. I just didn't see her that way.
Interesting post.

Holli Bertram said...

Like you, when I write my characters are more emotion to me than an actual physical description. I often have to push myself for the physical details and then post them somewhere so I don't forget - of course, the heroes generally end up sounding a bit like Colin Firth. I find I don't pay a whole lot of attention to physical description when I read, either, unless the character has a defining feature that's really out of the ordinary.

Hey - what's the "age of discretion" these days? I'm thinking I must have accidently overlooked that birthday:)!

Evonne Wareham said...

Stephanie - good to know I'm not the only one who 'sees' characters their way. Thanks for the comment.

Holli - I can't remember whether Colin featured in the top ten - I'm sure he was on the long list. I know him best as a stage actor - he is brilliant but does not play the romantic lead on stage, far from it.

Age of discretion - 50 Although maybe I ought to revise that expression as a lot of 50 year olds I know are far from discrete, and like it that way.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Interesting writing ideas--I actually DO have a picture in my head when I write. In fact, I'll lay in bed, ride my bike, or otherwise relax and play a movie visually (sometimes even mouthing the words, when I am in a private place so no one will think I'm crazier than I am). So, to think of the characters as an emotion might be something I'll try when I get stuck. Thanks!

Savanna Kougar said...

Evonne, you brought up so many wonderful things to consider, well, I could write pages. Usually, I will have a strong visual of my hero like the movie Lexie described -- but it becomes the entire package, his emotions, his character, how he feels -- I start feeling him, even how he moves physically.
I have written stories that began with a movie star like Pierce Brosnon and especially Adrian Paul -- but the longer I write, the more the heroes are completely unto themselves. They live in my imagination as real.
Great post,luved it.

Evonne Wareham said...

Lexie - I do the talking out loud in public places thing as well - and play all the parts - my neighbours and fellow comuters have learned to avoid me - or just smile.
Savanna - I know what you and Lexie mean about movies - some scenes do play like that for me- especially early in the book - after that it get hazy!

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Provocative post! I, like you, often "see" the hero differently, based on my own personal preferences. When I write my heroes I see them more in terms of what they embody, not just the physical appearance. At times, I've changed my H/H outward appearance to match what I'm going for on the inward character.

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Great post, Evonne. I don't 'see' my characters so much as feel them. I do describe them physically, but I have to remind myself to do so as it isn't something I need when I read. I'd rather visualise the characters for myself. I don't like books where each character is described with a fotofit description of every facial feature.

I've wondered which actor/actress would be suitable to play some of my characters, but I write the book first, then find an actor who suits the character rather than the other way around.