I know, of course, that there are more important things to characters than just their looks. That’s why when I’m creating my characters, I try not to spend too much time on their looks. After all, in order to write with them, I have to understand them much more intimately than just the shallow surface of physical attributes. If a physical attribute plays directly into their personality, then I must understand how and why at a very deep level.
Normally my physical description is like this: hair, black; eyes, blue; height is the taller end of average; build is slim. Then, if I must, I pinpoint any special features: he has a scar on his cheek that looks like a chunk of skin was taken out at one point, and as a result his beard does not grow in that section, when he is thinking hard or nervous, he strokes this part of his cheek.
So to complete my character profiling, I try to find pictures of people that look like the character I’m trying to build. I once read that Anne Rice imagined a young Rutger Hauer as her Lestat, so when I read the Vampire Chronicles, Rutger Hauer as seen in “Blade Runner” is my Lestat.
I use this same method. I try to imagine which actors I would cast as my characters if my book was made into a movie. For SOPHISTRY OF ALCHEMY I always imagined Buckingham as Heath Ledger as seen in “A Knight’s Tale”. Tall, a heavy build, square face, blonde hair and stormy blue eyes. And happily, it seems to match with common accounts of what Buckingham really did look like, in real life 5 centuries ago. I drew a picture of my Isolda. She was a combination between three girls I knew, with the face of one, the build of the second, and the personality traits of the third. And sometimes I simply peruse the internet in search of normal people. MySpace is a perfect place for this. Therefore, Isolda’s husband, Sir Fulton, was a man of average height, with curly black hair streaked with grey, eyes the color of cocktail olives, and one eyelid constantly partly closed. He also happened to have a gruff voice.
Using actors is a tough one. First of all, they’re almost always good looking. OK, maybe not ALWAYS good looking, but they look better than your average drunken, syphilis-ridden knight who hasn’t bathed in months and has never brushed his teeth. So I used the actor’s pictures as a guide-line. If I have to refer to Heath Ledger’s square jaw-line or the flicker of Sir Fulton’s half-closed eye, I can. The point is, having a picture helps with consistency. Heath Ledger may change from movie to movie, but his character in “A Knight’s Tale” is always the same; therefore, throughout the year SOPHISTRY takes place, Buckingham remains the same as well. Let’s be honest, unless you’re sixteen and in the midst of puberty, one doesn’t change all that much in a year. And if one does, it’s worth the extra time and words in a book to describe why. Like, for instance, Johnny Depp’s character in “The Libertine”. Rochester changes dramatically in less than a year, but it’s because of the way syphilis ravages his body, which in turn creates dramatic changes in his psyche.
So who, one might ask, is the inspiration for my next leading man? Guilhem de Nevers, if he is ever portrayed in a movie, should definitely be played by Hugh Jackman. But only if the movie is made in the next two years. Otherwise, Hugh Jackman will start to look too old, and I’ll have to find someone else, who is never as good as the first. Like, as an example, Anne Rice having to settle on Tom Cruise dyed blonde as a replacement for Rutger Hauer. Sad business, that one.