Imagining your hero

When I see a novel adapted to TV or film, I sometimes wonder how closely the lead actor on the screen matches what the author imagined. Especially for the more closely adapted works.

Sometimes there are obvious liberties. Lord Vetinari, the Patrician in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels is usually depicted in official art as being extremely thin and having black hair. Yet when Going Postal was made, Vetinari (played by Charles Dance) is clearly blonde. Some fans did not like the change.

It is also an interesting exercise to see how well you can picture the protagonist when reading a novel. Sometimes the visual cues are quite explicit. Garion in The Belgariad, for example, is obviously blonde. It becomes a plot point several times. By the time he’s grown up in The Mallorean, he’s tall as well. So we know what David Eddings had in mind.

But sometimes that’s not enough. Popular actors often get used as templates by readers and writers. When the BBC remade Pride and Prejudice some years ago, the casting of Colin Firth as Mr D’arcy was arguably a bit of a gamble. Yet everyone knows he played the part well. So well that when Helen Fielding created one of the love-interests for Bridget Jones she not only modelled it closely on Firth’s portrayal, she even gave him the same name!

And there was a recent discussion on Twitter about Sean Bean standing in as a hero image. Sean Bean has been around as an actor for some while. He found some fame in Peter Jackson’s version of The Lord Of The Rings for portraying the deeply flawed character of Boromir. However, he also had a major role in National Treasure as the main antagonist, as well as an important supporting role in Ronin as someone in over his head. All three roles include much physical action but they differed, too. He also had the lead role in Sharpe’s Challenge, which I’d never heard of. Here is the clip I saw which showed a very different role for Bean, and one I thought he captured very well.

It made me think about how I imagine the characters I create.

When I write, I am always very careful to delineate the different characters not just by action but by appearance, too. Tall, short, thin, fat, dark, fair, ugly, pretty… however they differ, they differ, and it is natural and human to idly notice this. I also try to take it one step further and make these differences part of the plot.

In the world I am currentlly writing in, green eyes are important. Rare, but important. Some supporting characters know why and it is a great piece of story-telling for them to realize they have a green-eyed woman in their midst. At the very least it is derailing for them and their reactions are very useful to drive the plot forward. Likewise, the main protagonist in my current work (a farmer’s son called Jacint) is tall, but thin and lanky. This was born mostly out of a need to be different from some mercenary supporting characters and it hasn’t had time to become anything more important. So far I have only used it to mention a charm hanging in a doorway because he alone had to duck under it. So much more natural than him noticing it for no other reason. But I have big plans for Jacint and being taller than average will work nicely.

On the other hand, I don’t regard Jacint as having a terribly well-defined physical image. Not yet. Since most of the work is his point-of-view, this will be by necessity somewhat muted. Over time I expect it to be enhanced to suit the story. However, some of the others around him are more well defined as the description would by necessity reflect the sorts of thing he will see first.

As to who my readers will envisage as Jacint lookikng like… I have no idea. It will be interesting to see if this happens, to be honest!

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Filed under characterisation, David Eddings, Helen Fielding, writing

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