Friday, May 07, 2010

He's Just Like... by Megan

Do you enjoy reading a book where the narrator describes a character by comparing him (or her) to someone famous? Or does that take you out of the story?

I'm participating in an online class in character development. (Okay, I'm on deadline and taking care of my mom on my days off the paying job, so I'm really just lurking.) The lesson for the past days was to name your main characters then find pictures of what they look like.

Now, I'm not a visual person. I don't do crafts, I can't see the hidden potential in a rock that will reveal a statue--to me, it's just a rock, a lump of clay, a bunch of paints and canvas. When it comes to writing, everything is in my head. This class with historical writer and good friend, Kimberly Killion, is a great exercise to expand my abilities with description, at which I su...suffer.

Problem is, when I look at early pictures of Brad Pitt, all I can think of is him now and the tabloid headlines. When someone recalls Rock Hudson being a heartthrob in the 50s and 60s, I just feel sad because he was gay and had to hide it and was probably a very unhappy person. And the list goes on. About the only handsome actor whose personal life or personality doesn't interfere is the late Paul Newman, who I understand to have been an excellent person.

This isn't what Kim is telling us to do, by the way, as she writes medievals and there were no TV or movie heros. I've just read this often, seen it being used as shorthand.

So...does name-dropping for comparison throw you? Does it take you out of the story to hear the hero looked like Mel Gibson or George Clooney? Or does it give you an instant visual, which is the intention?

Just curious, as I'll be starting a new story next month, and it'll be time to describe my people again.


Megan Kelly


Estella said...

I personally don't care for comparisons to famous people.
I prefer to picture them in my mind.

linda s said...

Comparing to movie stars doesn't work for me as I don't have visual pictures of them in my head. I am so bad with names and faces, when I was introduced to Mel Brookes I asked him what he did. I find name dropping annoying.

Linda Henderson said...

I prefer to visualize them from the description in the book. That's not to say that I'd be upset if the author described them as looking like a particular person, but I would rather make up my own mind as to what they look like. I hope that makes sense.

Victoria said...

I've always been told by editors not to describe or compare them to famous people. Even the most high respected person can fall from grace, and as you said, then that's all you think about. It's the same reason they don't want our characters to be athletes, I guess. Too much chance of a scandal. That, plus the assumption that women don't like sports!

Megan Kelly said...

Thanks everyone! That helps, and I agree, since I have this problem too. I like a visual and the online class teacher, Kim, mentioned using models since we usually don't know their personalities. sigh-I guess I'l just have to troll for pictures of male models on the internet. :D

Pamela Stone said...

Okay, I have a slightly different angle on this. I am visual. I have to picture my characters in order to write them well. So to help me in my process, I tend to cast them when I'm writing. It helps me as a writer visualize and describe the character. Note, I don't always even use famous people, but it is someone I can visualize.

However, for the reasons everyone mentioned above, I don't like to name drop or mention a famous person in the actual story. Hopefully I do my job well enough that readers can visualize the character without me telling them the guy looks like Matthew McConaughey for example. Think about it. I could describe Matt and a reader could easily visualize Paul Newman or Patrick Swayze or any number of other actors.

Marcie said...

Takes me out of the story because then all I see is the actor/actress and who they are and lose sight of the character.

Lynn said...

Hi Megan!
I like having more unknown models for my characters. I want the reader to make their own idea of what the character looks like, with a little help from me.

One of our classmates read pages from her current story to the critique group. When I saw the pictures of her "models" for the class exercise, the guy was totally different than my mental picture of the hero.

Megan Kelly said...

This has been a great help. I'll work harder on description. I like the idea that a blond hunk to one person is Matthew McC and to another is Paul N. :)