Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sea Creatures and Hollywood Hunks by Sandra Ardoin

Writers put a lot of work into their characters, either before they ever start writing, or as they go along. For me, it’s a combination of both.

As I’ve prepared for the release of my Christmas novella The Yuletide Angel, I’ve answered interview questions and filled out media and book cover information forms. One of the questions I’ve been asked in this process is whether or not I chose an actor and actress as the physical representations of my hero and heroine. The cover design people want to get an idea of how I see my main characters so they can get as close as possible to the ideal.

Using photos of models and celebrities is a common ploy we enlist to help us describe our people even if it’s only meant to clarify the image for us as the writer. I’m not talking about cloning a celebrity so that his or her looks and personality fit the main character. That could lead to problems we don’t want to deal with. I’m talking about using things like coloring, height, and facial shape to clarify your imagination--to see that character as he or she walks around in your head.

I have a Pinterest board called Future Characters? where I collect images of various people. Not all of my photos are celebrities. There are old black and white photographs all over Pinterest of people whose facial features and expressions shout stories. I also collect images from the pages of fashion magazines. Even so, when I’m writing, I don’t necessarily “see” those people as my characters romp through the scenes. Usually, the features are vague. Maybe because I'm trying to be that character as I write.

Some writers choose not to disclose the people they see as those who come close to having the physical traits of their characters. They want their readers to develop their own ideas based on whatever descriptions they’ve used and not influence them toward a certain detailed look. There’s also the danger of a reader having a real aversion to that celebrity and, therefore, not liking the fictional character. 

One day, my daughter and I were discussing a popular actor, one she described as looking like a “sea creature.” (Really, I don’t get the connection, but …) When I told her I was using him as the physical basis for a character in a story (not the hero), she was appalled. **Uh-oh, I hope I didn’t lose a reader.**

So here’s a question for you. Do you think it’s wise for writers to pin images of character samples to Pinterest boards, or tell readers who they envisioned while writing? Let's get a discussion going. 

Do you keep a file of images that appeal to you as possible future characters? Have you ever read a novel, then been surprised to learn who the writer envisioned?


Available for Pre-order!

On October 15, join me for a Facebook party to celebrate the release of The Yuletide Angel. We'll gather from 11:00 to 3:00 to talk about Christmas fun and food and give away a few goodies.

Sandra Ardoin is a multi-published author of short fiction who writes inspirational historical romance. She’s the married mother of a young adult and lives in North Carolina. Visit her at and here on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest.


  1. I DO keep my own file. And I make Pinterest boards though I keep them private. I'm on the fence here because as a reader I don't like too much description, I'd rather my imagination get to play. So as a writer, it's hard for me to force my description onto my readers. However, my beta readers always ask for more, so I've found myself describing my characters in greater detail with each story I write. I do wonder what they'd do if the picture I've pinned and am describing was found to be an actor they didn't like! LOL

  2. I'm a little opposite, Susan. I like to have a description of the character--at least, coloring and height. After that, my imagination does the rest.

    I really hadn't thought about it much until my daughter's comment, but pinning that picture does seem to be a bit of a gamble, which is strange. I know when I'm looking for those images, there may be someone who is perfect, but if I'm not crazy about that person, I won't use them.

  3. I think it's interesting to see who an author would have chosen. It doesn't often match who I would have chosen, or what I have imagined, if I have already read the book. If I haven't read the book, it can be hard not to see that person as I'm reading, but often, my own imagination will take over, especially if not matched. Interesting thoughts on this topic, though. My middle daughter (16yo) aspires to be an author... I'll have to get her take on this.
    Kelly Y

    1. I'd be interested to know your daughter's thoughts, Kelly. So I'm assuming it doesn't bother you, even if your idea doesn't come close to the author's.

    2. I do collect images of characters, and then keep them as a rotating background for my computer. I think that it is a good idea, yes. This way, it is possible to show people the characters, without showing them the story. My little sister, for example, often helps me find names that 'match the faces', so to speak. I might not have a story completely written out for them yet, but she's always willing to help with names or personality ideas to go with the faces.
      Rebekkah (Kelly's 16 yo)

    3. What a great idea, Rebekkah! You're showing the reader, yet letting them use their imaginations to decide who is who.

      I do the same thing as you with matching faces. They have to match my idea of that character, rather than plucking a face out of thin air simply because I like it. Sometimes, though, I'll find a photo with a particular expression on the person's face and build a character around it like your sister helps you do. Make sure, when you sell that first book, that you include your sister on your acknowledgments page! :)

      Like I told your mom elsewhere ... keep studying and don't give up! If God wants you to publish a book, it will happen, but in His time. Best wishes!

  4. It is dependent on how you set them up descriptively, behaviorally and in-scene, in-action. So plot is relevant to your question's answer.

    Semantically speaking, you can give the reader perceptual guidelines, write as tight a scene as you want or develop a highly predictable character for one reason or another, and you can't precisely control how the reader interprets your content.

    Even in highly ordinate specifications for technical documents, which I have written plenty of, there is several drafts before an interpretation error free instruction is produced.

    Stepping into fiction away from scientific or technical precision required documentation..

    That having been said, it is also true a character with verisimilitude to a real person who is engaged in a gripping, colorful conflict the audience has suspended disbelief about doesn't really require they see the character the way you do.

    The only narratological requirement is that they are invested in the character's persona and the conflict they are engaged in with respect to your question.

    Thus, it appears the basis for your concern has to do more with what happens when a writer manages to write themselves out of a story, but can't manage to psychologically disengage themselves with the character they found such intense or meaningful creative expression through for the time the manuscript was being produced.

    So, like the actor who cools off for a couple months to become themselves again after becoming a character in a role for a long period of time, you have mistaken a creative process issue of a personal creator nature with a writing issue.

    Whether the audience sees the character the same way you do or not is almost irrelevant as a literary production question for that is not what is at stake or a goal of the audience/character interaction.

    If fact, the farther you progress from specific interpretation requirement writing like instructional design or tech specs, the more and more difficult it is to maintain parallel interpretations.

    But as it is not necessary for the purpose, you have no relevancy to your inquiry.

    What would be interesting reading, and more valuable to you personally as a creator and to your audience culturally is to examine how your letting go of the character now that it is born, walking on its own and out of the house living on its own in the world, so to speak.

    That is what I really think is going on here, and if you re-frame your curiosity in both personal first and professional next creative process context, I am certain you will find fruitful and not fanciful speculation.

    The Lone Comic TM
    Defender of Creativity and Entertainment SM

  5. So interesting, Sandy! I never have one of those files, but have a vague idea in my head. I don't think it hurts for writers to tell us what actor they may envision, unless that actor might be known for a particular personality trait...I wonder if that would affect how the reader sees your true character? lol Just thinking out loud! I've never given this that much thought, but very interesting!

    1. "... unless that actor might be known for a particular personality trait...I wonder if that would affect how the reader sees your true character?"

      Right. If you show that your hero has the same look as an actor who was just arrested for doing drugs, even though your hero is true blue, drug-free, does that put a bad taste in the reader's mind? Probably not if they've already the book, but before they read it? Hmmm ...

  6. "... you can't precisely control how the reader interprets your content." Exactly, Art! :)

    Frankly, I don't want to control a reader's imagination, but readers are interested in how authors come up with their ideas. My question dealt with a matter of wisdom, not creativity. Is it wise, as an author, to insert that concrete visual into a reader's mind, and are you risking alienating a reader should they not like the person you're showing as a representation of your character?

    Interesting thoughts. Thanks for your opinion!

  7. Yes, I have a Pinterest board for my characters, too. I like the idea of keeping them private, but I've actually had people like and re-pin of some of my images. So, I'll just leave it as is for now, I guess. :)

    1. One of the advantages of Pinterest for an author is to create a board and pin things that have to do with the book. I do that for mine. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of making one public that hasn't sold, so, other than The Yuletide Angel, I'll keep them private from now on, until the book sells. I guess we could pin things other than character images, leaving those to the reader's imagination.

      Great that your have been repinned, Angie!

  8. Great discussion, Sandy. I have Pinterest boards for the books I'm working on, and I include actors or other pics of people I could see as my characters. They help me when thinking about how the character might sound, move, facial expressions, etc. I've gone back and forth with keeping the boards public or making them private. Like Angie, I've had people re-pin some of the pics from the board, so I've kept them public.

    As a reader, I think I primarily go with my imagination, so although I've found it interesting to see what actor an author might choose to play a certain character, I don't necessarily let their choice influence my experience.

    1. I think I've pinned a few of your dresses, Dawn. :) Great to get your "reader" thoughts and know that the images don't really affect your reading experience.

      I guess it works the same as the photos on the cover of books. Do I see that photo in my mind as I read. Sometimes, sometimes not.

    2. Oh, that's so true, Sandra! I don't always see the characters as they're portrayed on the cover either!

  9. No...I actually like my own imagination to kick in. I always prefer NO faces on my covers (most times I haven't gotten my way). One series has horses on the favorites. Interesting subject, Sandra . Oh, and tons of good wishes on Yuletide Angel. Xo

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Tanya.

      Anything with horses on the cover has to be good! :)


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