A Problem Of Giant Proportions

Something of a lighthearted post. We have fun here as well. I don’t like always taking matters sooooo seriously. 😉

Over the last few days, I’ve been writing several new characters. When you read novels, do you picture characters’ looks in your mind? I suspect most of us do; it’s a natural reflex.

As odd as this might read, I work hard at not describing my characters physical appearances in heavy handed doses. I prefer to drop their looks in throughout the text in piecemeal fashion. I use blurbs.

Free Stock Photo: A silhouette of a man reaching towards the sky.
Free Stock Photo: A silhouette of a man reaching towards the sky.

He’s “Italian-looking.” Or she was “taller than most of the boys in school.” Or he’s “shorter than average.” Or she has “long, brown hair.” Or she has “freckles.” Or he’s “burly.” Physical descriptions tend to be blended in among other background, and scattered throughout, and ultimately hopefully internalized without too much of a “jarring” experience for readers.

My goal is you come to picture them without necessarily realizing you are picturing them. I admit I enjoy doing it that way, and feel you do develop a pretty good idea for yourself of what they all look like. Yet that approach also still allows room for the possibility the characters you “see” in your mind may not exactly match what others “see” in their own minds. These are novels, after all, not photographs.

Free Stock Photo: Silhouette of a woman holding flowers before a sunset.
Free Stock Photo: Silhouette of a woman holding flowers before a sunset.

Unsurprisingly I have vague ideas in my mind about what they all look like. But they are just that: vague. To let you in on something else: overall I probably don’t actually have much of a clearer consistent image of them in my own mind than you likely would.

But that can have its positives. Consider the “gigantic” problem another author famously ran into recently. According to Wikipedia:

In June 2011, Tom Cruise was in talks of playing the role of Jack Reacher. The following month, Cruise closed a deal with the studios and signed on for the part. Some fans of the novel series became vocal over the casting of Cruise due to actor’s stature not matching the description of Reacher in the novels.

Author Lee Child found himself placed on the defensive by his own readers:

Explaining the casting decision, author Lee Child said that it would be impossible to find a suitable actor to play the giant Reacher and to recreate the feel of the book onscreen, and that Cruise had the talent to make an effective Reacher. Child also said, “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.”

Only Mr. Child knows the absolute truth of what was going through his mind as he invented and wrote Reacher. Characters’ appearances are entirely the author’s prerogative. However, as he sat alone for uncounted hours writing, and long before any film was ever in sight, was he really thinking about his main character’s height as a “metaphor”?

Mine aren’t “metaphors,” but people. I save my use of various literary devices for within the story. So aside from Isabelle being on the slightly taller than average side (but hardly of Reacher proportions), future producers won’t face the “Tom Cruise dilemma” when they make the film someday. 😉

Have a good weekend! 🙂