Things other writers do that annoy me, #1

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Regarding writing
Tags: ,

This will be a short series of brief complaints about the things writers do that P*** me off. Please note, this is just a bit of fun, and yes I am a hypocrite because many of the things I’ll complain about I may well have done myself, or may do in the future!

So, what hacks me off today is…writers who describe characters as looking like famous people.

Yup, that’s right. It always gets my goat when I read something along the lines of; “John was a handsome fellow, he looked a bit like Tom Cruise.” It’s laziness. It’s a case of not being arsed to actually describe what a character looks like, so you’re going to just use shorthand, ‘cos everyone knows what Tom Cruise looks like, right?

Of course, get successful enough and it can backfire on you. Dan Brown’s character Robert Langdon looks like Harrison Ford. He must have been miffed when they cast Tom Hanks in the films…

And also it relies on people knowing what the famous person looks like, and over time this may not always be the case. Want an example? Ian Fleming suggests James Bond looks like Hoagy Carmichael…yes I had to Google pictures of him as well…

Even one of my favourite authors, James Herbert, has fallen into the trap. For the most part he describes his characters vaguely enough that they could be anyone, but in Creed it’s made plain that Joe Creed looks like Mickey Roarke (thankfully Mickey Roarke circa 1990 not Mickey Roarke circa 2013, although to anyone who’s read the book there’s a certain irony given Roarke has ended up looking like he might fit in at the old people’s home where the book’s finale takes place). Of course if Creed had ever made it to the screen it’s doubtful they could have got Roarke, in fact the man who was, back in the day, exceptionally interested in helping bring the novel to life (and playing the eponymous hero) was actually Lenny Henry!

Of course the truth is that writers often base their characters on famous people, I know I do. In fact I can tell you right now that the lead characters in the novel I’m currently writing are (in my head) Cillian Murphy and Emilia Fox, and one of the bad guys is Idris Elba. However, at no point in the book are they (or any other characters) described as looking like their famous counterparts, even if how they look dictated how I described them.

So if your lead does look like Tom Cruise, why not just say he had all American good looks, perfect teeth and twinkling blue eyes—oh yes, and he wasn’t the tallest of guys either— rather than just lazily say he looked like Tom Cruise. People will probably figure it out anyway, but even so at least in their heads he might not quite look like Ethan Hunt…

  1. Tom Elias says:

    Why would anyone pick Tom Cruise? Great first name and all, but really? Sarcasm aside, I see your point. Do people actually DO this?

  2. starkers70 says:

    They do, like I say Dan Brown does, and I’ve seen various authors do it over the years. I can see it being useful if you’re trying to describe a character that’s very distinctive, a Peter Lorre for example, but mostly I think it is laziness.

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