Monday, October 22, 2007

Show me the hunks!

by Anna Sugden

No, this isn’t an excuse to plaster the blog with pictures of hunks. Well, that’s not the primary reason *grin*.

As writers, we all have different ways to help the writing process along. For many of us, visual cues really help.

A number of writers use collages and/or picture boards to represent their stories. These visual references can include pictures of specific elements - people, places or objects - representing characters, settings and key items in a story. They can also contain images which reflect particular emotions or the feel they want a book, chapter or scene/event to have such as a happy reunion, a melancholy misty seascape or sun-splashed flowers in a field.

Visual references don’t have to be limited to pictures. Some collages are elaborate, containing tactile elements (like fabrics and materials), miniatures (cars, furniture, clothing) or specific objects (eg a necklace, a matchbook, a flower).

When I start a new book, one of the first things I do is find pictures of my hero and heroine. Past heroes have been inspired by Matthew Mcconnaughey, Colin Firth and Hugh Jackman, while my heroines have been as diverse as Kim Delaney, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Ehle (Lizzie in the series of Pride and Prejeduice) and former punk star, Siouxsie Sioux.

Then, my good friend Samhain author Christyne Butler ( creates a mock book cover - complete with title, logo and strapline. These are the fabulous mock covers she made for my two hockey books. (You knew I’d get my hockey hunks in there!)

These covers grace the walls around my computer. The one representing my current manuscript takes pride of place above my screen. What better inspiration than to see a ‘book-cover’ for the manuscript I’m writing? And what better motivation than to imagine how my book may look on a shelf some day?

For the writers among you, do you use visual means to inspire you and who do your current hero/heroine resemble? For the readers, do you like to be told who a hero or heroine looks like or do you prefer to imagine them for yourself? And do they always resemble the same person - are they all Brad Pitt regardless of how the author describes them - or do you try to create an image based on the book’s description?


Susan Seyfarth said...

Hey, Anna--
Great topic! I've never done a visual thing for pre-writing before, but I've been feeling more & more drawn to the collage idea after seeing one of Jenny Crusie's.

My last book was inspired by Five for Fighting's song Superman (It's Not Easy.) I printed out the lyrics & taped them beside my computer to keep that bittersweet, yearning feeling foremost in my mind when writing. I'm not sure it worked, though. The book itself went a little slapstick on me.

Thanks for the inspiration to go visual this time! I love me some hunks in the morning!

doglady said...

I think I probably do visualize my heroes and heroines as certain people. Right now my heroes tend to look like Matthew Macffadeyen from P&P, Roger Howarth (a soap actor), Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Morgenstern. You get my drift. I haven't gone so far as to do a collage, but I might just try that. I do have certain songs that I associate with my hero and heroine and I play them when I am writing certain scenes.

Susan Seyfarth said...

Ooooh, doglady! Matthew Macffadeyen! That scene in P&P, when he came striding out of the mist? I actually grabbed the arm of the woman next to me in the theatre (who I didn't even know) & said, "Wow." Get that one published & I'll be first in line at B&N! :-)

Anonymous said...

I think I might be in the minority on this, because I prefer not to use real men or women to visualize my romance heros or heroines. Somehow, for me, it trivalizes them to make them human--I prefer to think they're beyond the bounds of humanity. LOL.

But I LOVE your covers, Anna! I wish we could read those books! I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and hockey is a way of life around there. My brother started playing when he was around 5--way too late, according to most!

Thanks for the eye candy this morning! And I have to say, I entirely approve of your choices. ;-) What appeals to me most is they aren't just beefcake (okay, Matthew is pretty beefcakey, but in a marvelous way)--they are intelligent, cool, alpha men. I would take a smart, sexy guy like Colin Firth over Fabio any day!

Here's a question that has bothered me for a while--is it possible to capture a Hugh Grant-like character in a romance? The adorable, bumbling, sexy in a very non-beefcake kind of way hero? Is he too beta for the romance world?

Joan said...

Love your post, Anna (and the piccies aren't a really.)

I hadn't done any type of visual until I started THE PATRICIAN'S FORTUNE. Then I happened on a couple of pictures of a scruffy, hair tousled Hugh Jackman and BAM...I knew he was the image of Damon.

A woman in my local chapter also did a presentation on this. She keeps a binder of all kinds of pics and actually DRAWS (beautifully, I might add)images of her characters.

I vowed to do that but past finding a great photo of Bran (a Nautica add with this hot guy at the helm of a boat) I haven't succeeded. For some reason I don't connect with heroine pictures. :-)

For the rest I just sink into my imagination...

Nancy said...

Hey, Anna--

I imagine what my hero and heroine look like, but I don't seek pictures that resemble them. There's always something not quite right about the pictures I find. That may tie into my tendency as a reader to want only a general description of each character. I seem to feel more involved in a book I'm reading when I have enough of a description to have an idea but not enough specifics to preclude my creating my own images. I suspect the two tendencies are related.

Like Susan, I loved that song by Five for Fighting. I also like "Holding Out for a Hero," which is on the Footloose soundtrack.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Anna -
I make a really cool shadow box once to represent a time travel I was working on. It had postcards from New Orleans, little voodoo ornaments hanging down, A plastic figure of a nun for the religious element, tiny hourglass charms to represent the time element, and this neat woman in a 1850s dress ornament that stood in the middle of everything. The shadowbox is visually exciting, but after I finished it - I had no interest in working on the book. So I don't do that anymore ;-)

I try not to get too descriptive with my heros and heroines because I think we all have our favorite faces we like to slip in there, but I do carry images in my mind -- if I didn't I wouldn't know when they arch an eyebrow or slip into a half-grin *g*

Anna Sugden said...

Ahh Susan - the hockey band *grin* - can see where you got that inspiration!

I'd love to know if anyone does collages and how they work for them.

Anna Sugden said...

Nice picks for your heroes, Doglady - wouldn't it be cool if we could add more pics to the comments?! (I'm so untechy, I wouldn't know how to do it!)

I can see the appeal of MM - but I didn't like that version of P&P.

Anna Sugden said...

Thanks, Kirsten - I wish you could read my hockey books too. Keep your fingers crossed on my revisions! Ah - a closet Sabres fan *grin*

I'm with you on the smart and sexy ;-). MM is beefcakey, but if you hear him speak - he's a great guy.

As for HG *sigh* (he is the voice for my AOL greeting!). Have you tried Vicki Lewis Thompson's Nerd series? She does beta very well.

Keira Soleore said...

Excellent topic, V.Anna.

As a writer, I like actual pictures to fire my imagination and to lend inspiration.

As a reader, I don't want too much description. I prefer other people's impressions and an ocassional detail or two sprinkled here and there. This allows me to imagine what he and she look like. In fact, in most cases, if the writer gives me the white spaces between her words to dream, then I like the book better.

Anna Sugden said...

Joan - I find heroines harder than heroes too. I often ask my hubby who he visualises as my heroine, once he's read my stuff. He's pretty good at it!

Wow on the lady who draws ... so envious of that skill. I'm a dud drawer.

Keira Soleore said...

Kirsten wrote, "OK Matthew is pretty beefcakey, but in a marvelous way"

Kirsten you must be feeling a lot better if you're drooling over, er, thinking about Matthew. :)

Anna Sugden said...

Nancy - I love Holding out for a Hero too. In fact I love Footloose (okay, so I'm a Brat Pack fan *grin*).

It's interesting what you say about general descriptions. When I was chatting with Robert Crais *sigh* (he's totally yummy), he said he wouldn't sell his books to film because he wants readers to be able to visualise his main character in their own minds.

Anna Sugden said...

Donna - interesting point about your shadow box. I suspect that's why I hesitate about collages. (and writing outlines *grin*) - I'd feel I'd done the job and wouldn't be inspired to write the book.

I'm with you on the general descriptions.

Anna Sugden said...

Hey Keira - before I forget - my hockey hunks are up on my website *grin*.

It seems, so far, we all like the general descriptions as readers, but like more visuals as writers. For research .. of course!

Caren Crane said...

Anna, I have probably mentioned before that I am totally not a visually-oriented person. (Picture this: a large group of Banditas and '06 Packers standing in a hotel lobby all waving as one to get my attention. I think the only reason I noticed them was someone yelled, "Hey, Caren!" *g* True story.)

But I digress. Not being visually oriented, I don't find pictures or collages helpful in my writing. I do, however, find songs to be orienting for me. I suppose I'm more auditory than visual in general, so I guess that carries over.

Song lyrics or a haunting melody ground me in a story more than anything else. I actually have the theme song for an old TV show keeping me on track for my current MIP (thanks for that term, Keira!).

Oh, and Anna, I'm a Brat Packer, too! Loved the whole era.

Cassondra said...

Anna this is a wonderful topic.

I couldn't write a book if I didn't have a collage. The thing is, that the collage develops along with the book. I have some books for which I have nothing but the flash of an idea lurking in the back of my mind--not even an outline on paper becuase there's not enough there--and yet, flipping through a magazine, I've found the heroes and heroines for those manuscripts. For others, I've got major parts of the book written but have not found the main characters or the setting.

While writing The Ritual I hit a spot where I couldn't move. The heroine would NOT talk to me. I couldn't get her motivation for something huge--it was a past event--something that made her who she is and was affecting her decisions, but I couldn't figure it out and I couldn't write. Then I found her. I glued her to the collage and I stared at her for about an hour and a half for two days in a row.

And she talked to me. Looking at her, at that pensive expression on her face--at the "I'm afraid but I'm bluffing through it" expression in her eyes, and I got it. I understood her.

Of course, then I had to make her mother a real...ahem....not nice.

And I'd wanted so much for her to have a nice mother.....

No magazine or catalog leaves my house without a flip-through for story elements.

Anna Sugden said...

Caren, I'm visual for inspiration ... but auditory for learning. That's why I love the RWA CD's - you can get so much from them. Whereas if I had to read the book ... nada.

Pretty in Pink is my absolute favourite. Such great characters - even the secondaries.

Anna Sugden said...

That's interesting, Cassondra. I'm glad they help you. My charcaters like to throw a spanner in the works round about Chapter 9. And, though it always works out for the best, it throws me off balance every time! Why can't they just do as they're told?!

I've often got story ideas from magazine pics too. They make me wonder why and what if.

Anna Campbell said...

VA, great post. Um, was there text in there? I seemed to just have this blur in front of my eyes and I just see these tall handsome men...

Bandita Jeanne did a great workshop on learning styles at RWA in Dallas and I realized I'm an aural person. I hear what they sound like and what they say first, then the visuals. Collages therefore have no great pull for me. You're obviously visual (and looking at those pictures - sorry, got distracted again!). Love the cover idea. Genuinely inspirational!

I have a 'type' in mind when I start writing. For example, in TEMPT THE DEVIL, which I'm working on now, the hero looks like Bryan Ferry in the 1980s (I had a huge crush on BF) and the heroine looks like Lauren Bacall. That gets me going in terms of descriptions but as I write the book, the characters become so vivid in their own right that those early similarities tend to fade a bit.

Kirsten, there's an absolutely gorgeous book by Loretta Chase called MR. IMPOSSIBLE that features a dunderhead hero. Or is he really? Read this book! You won't be sorry!

Caren, I so relate to not being visual! Problems when I have to remember people. And songs and music are more inspiring than pictures for me. See, I told you we were twins separated at birth!

Anna Sugden said...

Ahhh Bryan Ferry. Virginia Plain. Yum. Saw him once in a restaurant in London, years ago (and years after that). He looked old. *sigh*.

Oh and I hear voices too. *grin*

Beth said...

I prefer not to use real people as the basis for my hero or heroine's looks. Like Caren, I like to find songs that resonant with the characters *g*

I tried a collage once and while it was fun, I ended up tossing the pile of images I'd ripped out of my magazines and catalogues :-)

Suzanne Welsh said...

What an interesting idea, Anna!

I've never done a collage or a fake book cover. I guess I'd rather put all my energy into the actual words on the page. However I've had frequent conversations with the characters, occasionally whether I want to or not!

As for images of my characters, I'm like Inara, I like the image in my mind better than any images on paper or photos.

Helen said...

As a reader I like to hear about the hero and heroine from the author but I still have what they look like in my own mind and I use the descriptions in the book to visualize them.
Great post Anna very good on the eyes this early in the morning over hear really helped me wake up.
Have Fun

Christine Wells said...

Anna, great post and how cool to get mocked up covers for inspiration! I did a collage for my most recent WIP and sometimes I looked at it to get me 'in the mood' of the story but music tends to work well for me, too.

I don't visualize characters as if the story is a movie in my head. They are real to me but they don't take any kind of form--they're more voices than bodies. The physical characteristics I describe are sort of manifestations of their character in some way. I don't tend to go into detail about the physical and for me, picking an actor or whatever, restricts me in exploring the character. I did choose a couple of actors to represent Gemma and Sebastian in Scandal's Daughter but that happened well after I'd written the book.

Oh, and thanks for the eye candy! I, too, approve your choice!

Inara--I think you could certainly do a Hugh G, especially if you made him English and self-deprecating and witty, but quite masterful when his passion is aroused! SEP did a great nerdy hero in that computer novel she did, can't remember the name of it, but he was soooo sexy, even though he was a computer nerd. Best thing about that book, actually.

Anna Sugden said...

Beth - I can imagine doing the same thing! I always start with good intentions, but I'm just not that arty.

Anna Sugden said...

Suz - it's great that we all have our own ways to bring our characters to life in our minds. I'm glad I'm not alone in having conversations with my characters!

Anna Sugden said...

Glad I was able to bring some pleasure to your Monday (or is it now Tuesday?) morning, Helen. *grin*

Anna Sugden said...

It's interesting that you find pictures of real people restrict you, Christine. For me, it works as a touchstone. I can visualise mannerisms and expressions, which help me describe them in my writing.

Having said that, although they are inspired by those people, they still have their own form in my mind.

You're very welcome on the eye-candy *grin*

Dianna said...

I like them either way, I have a very vivid imagination so I can pull up a picture in my head real quick. As long as the cover matches the description I am okay with that.

Anna Sugden said...

There's nothing worse than covers which don't match the story, is there Dianna?! Suz Brockmann's Lucky comes to mind.

I also remember Leigh Greenwood telling a story about one of his covers, where the art department had to show the hero shaving (because he was supposed to be bearded and they'd made him clean-shaven!

Kate Carlisle said...

Oh Anna, of COURSE this was just an excuse to load the blog with photos of hunks! And thanks!

I always try to picture someone in real life as my hero. I'll find photos of who I picture as my hero and stick them in a binder for reference....but then as I write him, my guy will begin to take on qualities all his own and he becomes a whole different person than the one I originally pictured in my head. Weird!!

Fun topic, Anna!

Anna Sugden said...

We can be weird together, Kate *grin*.

DownUnderGirl said...

I'm all for using real people for my heros. I find the perfect pic of them and use them as my screen saver so I can look at them with a click of a button if I need to clarify any of their characteristics. At the moment it's Goran whathisname who plays Luca in ER.
Actually with heroes I just prefer to introduce into the text that x looked a bit like a 20 year old Hugh Jackman or y looked a bit like Rowan Atkinson on speed. That gives the reader an accurate visual but still gives them room to move with their imagination.

Heroines are harder for me I think because well...essentially... they're.....ME!!!! ;-)
So its more just eye and hair colour and build and I'm good to go with the heroine.

Die hard Footloose fan too.


Christyne Butler said...

Ah, see what I get for being determined NOT to surf last night but write instead?

Thanks for shout-out know how much I love working on your covers (and not just because it's a great way to avoid my current ms!)

I too share your love for the visual and finding just the perfect image for my heroes and heroines...right now I've got Lucky Vanous to stare at...and I don't even like Diet Coke! ;)

Anna Sugden said...

Ooh yum, Amy. Love Goran Vis-whatsit. Even liked him in Practical Magic, when he was so evil!

Good point about the heroines *grin* especially for me and my hockey books (shh that's between us!)

Anna Sugden said...

Christyne! Good to see you!

Yes, folks - this is the same Christyne! Isn't she super-talented?!

Hmmm will have to look up Lucky Vanous.

Keira Soleore said...

V.Anna: Visited your Extras page. Oh, my!! And yes, you sure looked cute standing there on the ice. But, oh, my!! No wonder you're so inspired.


Anna Sugden said...

Thanks so much for visiting Keira! So glad you enjoyed. *grin*

I'm hoping to get some more close-up shots next time I get to practice. And this time when they take their shirts off, I'll be ready!

Annie Doyle said...

Enjoying this topic. Runs in with what I said in my post about truth and fiction. I use a collage and have great difficulty finding the right pix to add for heroes and heroines too for that matter. What ends up happening is a lot of different pix and I meld them. One I used as the basis for my latest hero was a pic I found of a brass band member. Not sure his name, but he was cute and perfect for the 'role'.
I actually interpret, as I read, how a character should look and then when a description comes, maybe well into the novel, I am often disappointed and find myself back-tracking to re-check if they'd already been described. Usually no, it was just the way I'd interpreted the personality would or should look. Does that make sense?

MaryF said...

I make mock covers, too (loved Bad Boy, Good Man, BTW, when I judged it!)

My Nano hero is Jared Padalecki and the heroine is Lana from Smallville.