blogging about a blog post--but hey, it's about writing people writing people

This started out as a comment at Tumperkin's place in which I agreed with Bettie**

Tumperkin wrote about character description--a good post.

Replying to Tumperkin's line "short of saying 'she looks exactly like Angelina Jolie," Bettie wrote:

That's my pet peeve, right there. I hate, hate, hate celebrity comparisons. It just seems lazy. I'd rather a vague description than one that hijacks an actor's face.

Yeah, what she said.

I dislike the mention of an actor's face because I really would rather not be given an immutable image of the characters. There are other, stronger reasons it bugs the bejeebers out of me when an author uses a famous contemporary face.

See, I mind mostly when it's one of today's hot popular faces. George Clooney, no. Peter Lorre, maybe. Okay, I'll say yes to Lorre (but not the hero, unless you're slightly perverse. I admit that I'd read that book, but I'll bet a gazillion dollars Avon would never publish it.).

I'll forgive the writer if it's sort of twisted, say "he looked like Ben Stiller might if Ben worked the night shift at dunkin donuts and tasted a sample from every dozen he produced."

Sly and Clever are okay with me as long as it's not slammimg me over the head with the "see how clever I am" of the writer at the expense of the story. Emma Jensen does the very best 20th century actor reference, ever. And in a Regency. She describes a slender character with reddish hair, a wide mouth, and long limbs (only more lyrical than that. Oh, damn, how I miss Emma Jensen) and later on, some other character remarks that she looks like so and so's cousin Miss Hepburn.

But my main reason for objecting is a writer-trying-to-be-a-reader reason:

Many writers' loops are filled with people mentioning the famous faces they use to visualize their characters. They provide links where you can find gorgeous faces as models for your vampire prince hero.

So when I see the line, "she looked like a blonde Angelina Jolie," I see the writer's desktop monitor with little clipped photos of Angelina Jolie taped across the top. Even if that writer didn't use a blonde AJ as a prop, for me, a bit of the backstage is revealed in those descriptions (ie I'm aware of the author's voice in a way that she didn't intend. Hey, she might never have clipped a picture in her life, but we're talking about my response, not reality).

With something like Jensen's Hepburn gag, it's a gift to the reader, not a gaffe.


** As a fangirl it's my job to stalk Bettie around the internet agreeing with her. Also Bonnie and Carrie and Doug and Bron and about three thousand other people. I follow them and say "yeah, what she/he said" Eventually I get to read their unpubbed WIPs. Sock puppetry doesn't pay well, but it has its perks. Most of this is footnote is snarkish. The part about loving their WIPs isn't.


  1. Yeah, what she said!

    > They provide links where you can
    > find gorgeous faces as models for
    > your vampire prince hero.

    Another thing that bugs me about book characters that look like celebrities--they're too damned good looking.

    I try--I really, really try to make my heroes unspeakably handsome. It hardly ever sticks. Somewhere in the writing, they develop scruffy stubble, atrocious haircuts, broken noses, crooked smiles, or poor fashion sense.

    Kate, I totally want to read that Emma Jensen book you mentioned. Do you remember the title?

  2. It's a signet trad regency called A Grand Design. The heroine, Catherine, is an architect but pretends she's just her uncles' helper. The hero is dark and tortured.

    Jensen is one of those rare writers who can do fluffy trad regencies and the longer, more serious regency-set stuff. Layton manages that too.

    I curse whoever didn't give her lots more money to keep writing("Whomever"? no, wait, they're the subject of the curse. Except I'm the subject of the sentence? I curse grammar.) Anyway, damn the publisher that didn't give her more contracts.


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