One Thing Not To Do If You’re Writing A Book and You’re Me

So I had this idea of the love interest in the Anna book, a guy who would look trust-fund rich in a suit and then turn out to be very different (because Anna would be looking for somebody who would annoy her ex which would also pay off later), and I’d added eyelashes and cheekbones because I was looking for universal markers. I forgot jawline which according to an article in Vanity Fair is essential for testosterone laden characters:

“That chiseled, rugged jawline, as well as prominent cheekbones and heavy brow ridges, are all built by testosterone,” said Dr. Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist and Chief Scientific Advisor for “Testosterone is also linked with the behavioral traits of dominance, interest in sex and aggression. As a result, those with these angular features can signal confidence and manliness (in good characters) and aggression and predatory behavior (in bad characters)—depending on the context.”

The problem was, I had no real idea of what this guy looked like. I’d pretty much built him from things that would bother Anna’s ex and intimidate Anna so that when she went over to him, it would be a really brave thing to do. That was a bad idea.

So here’s what never to do if you write like me: Don’t describe characters until you have their placeholders.

I almost always choose a placeholder for my characters early in discovery draft because I need a visual touchstone. That falls away eventually because the character becomes real, without the collages I wouldn’t even remember the avatars I chose, but that touchstone in the beginning is a huge help. And I didn’t have one for Charlie/Nate, which became more complicated when I realized I was visualizing Charlie and Nate differently. Time for a placeholder.

I thought I had Anna right off the bat, although keeping her in mind got harder because she morphed as I wrote, so I gave up and went looking for a new placeholder for her, and found a great one, a woman who not only has curly red hair, she’s a dog lover. (This book needs a dog, possibly two.) Then I thought, Maybe not. Then I tried to photoshop the two together. Next time, I’m going to start with pictures, I swear.

Her mother I based on an old movie role and then updated the actress (Mercedes Ruehl) so I had a good picture of her, and that one’s exactly right. For some reason, Nate’s partner showed up as Christian Bale, which was a surprise, but I could roll with that; have to be careful there because he’s in two more books. But I often use two different people for the same placeholder, and I have a back-up for Carter, so I’m good there. But all I had for Nate was cheekbones and eyelashes and looks good in a suit; try googling for that and you get a mass of good-looking guys who aren’t right.

So now I probably have the wrong placeholder for Anna–she needs to be more solid, stronger–and the idea of placeholder for Nate that is basically Matt Bomer (Nate) and Tom Hardy (Charlie) schmushed together, which is not going to work, so I tried for Chris Pine (why is everybody wearing a beard these days?). I’m thinking Pine has the eyelashes and the cheekbones that Anna went on about, and also the jawline that Dr. Fisher pontificated on. Plus I like the way he contrasts with Carter; they’re two guys in suits but they need to be different. Magnolia is still not right. Must cogitate. And also photoshop because I don’t think Bernadette Peters has ever worn a twinset in her life. Maybe Aubrey Plaza. I love Aubrey Plaza.

I did find a great picture of Anna’s pool house, though. So there’s that.

Admin Update: The Anna posts are now all (I think) tagged “Anna.”

33 thoughts on “One Thing Not To Do If You’re Writing A Book and You’re Me

  1. Given the number of Chrises on the big screen, I have to suggest my favorite Chris – the Evans one. As an actual human he’s good with dogs, and charming, and local (to me) and he can trend blonder or darker depending on sunshine.

    It is true that everyone has beards right now. I think it is a pandemic thing.

  2. I have actually based entire characters on stock photos I’ve found in the neverending search for good cover-art starting points. 🙂 The whole placeholder thing is a Thing!

  3. So I posted this and then went back to looking for Anna’s and found some pictures that might work with some tinkering and then found some that weren’t anything I’d thought of and suddenly a whole new side of Anna opened up and I’m loving it.

    Really, start that picture search early, and don’t be afraid to mix several different avatars for one character.

    Now I must go write. This new idea is BRILLIANT, I tell you, BRILLIANT.

    1. I’m always amazed at what a visual thinker you are. Although considering the fact that you used to teach Art, I shouldn’t be surprised.
      Three cheers for your inspiration!

  4. I like that Charlie and Nate look different. It might be similar to how sometimes you look at a picture of an actor and tell if its the character or the actor. It can physically be the same person but there is something different.

  5. If you are looking for someone with a good chin and cheekbones who looks good in a suit but other stuff too, or even nothing, how about a younger Richard Gere such as when he was in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, American Gigolo, or when he was married to Cindy Crawford?

  6. Always liked Matt Bomer in White Collar…There’s Henry Cavill in Tudors he’s more rugged then Matt Bomer, he did Man from UNCLE a couple of years ago so should have some nice suit photos

  7. This reminds me of the Chris Pine/Tom Hardy movie This means War. It is decent but with issues.. Though I always wondered how a British fellow ended up at the CIA

  8. Are Charlie/Nate doing that Chris Reeve Superman/Clark Kent thing? I loved the way he could go from one to the other.Charlie would be… Kal El? Nate would be Clarky?

    1. No. Nate has no alter ego, that’s just what Lucy called him.
      Anna has an alter ego she daydreams about, but I’ve found a way to do that in the collage.
      I think my confusion with Charlie/Nate is that Chapter One, the stuff in Vegas is all in Anna’s PoV, so I have her idea of Charlie in my head. Then I got to Nate’s PoV in Chapter Two, and he’s different, so it felt like writing two different characters. I’ll figure it out.

  9. Hi, I can’t really work out where to post this query and comment, so I’ve just added it to your latest post. I’m an avid reader of varied genres but every time I feel miserable, down and in need of cheering up (especially now with covid) I always return to a now very tatty, worn paperback called Getting Rid of Bradley. It is so witty entertaining and even a little absurd that it always makes me feel better. BUT my query – have you ever considered telling the stories of Anthony and Tina? There seems so much scope for them to merit books of their own. Unlike the subsidiary characters in many books we learn enough about their characters to want to know how their lives pan out. (if you have put them in other titles and I haven’t found them, many apologies!) best wishes Pam

    1. I had a proposal at HQ for that, but it was thirty years ago, and we had a contract dispute. My editor was willing to accept it, but I couldn’t accept the contract terms, so I left HQ. I still own the characters, but it’s been too long. I’m quite sure, however, that Anthony and Tina met several times at dinner at Lucy and Zack’s place and inevitably fell for one another. Does that help?

    2. I read that book so long ago and STILL remember that dinner scene. I laughed so hard, I had to stop reading for a while. Loved that book.

  10. Funny coincidence that you mentioned Married to the Mob the other day because I had just seen it, I think for the first time. So I immediately knew the character you referenced for your “mom” character.

    When I write, I don’t do placeholders and would have a tough time picturing celebrities in my stories while I’m in the process of writing. I know it works for lots of writers, though.

    So as you were describing these “testosterone” qualities for male characters, my mind melded the qualities with art crime, and I went to Pierce Brosnan from Remington Steele days. Because, again, I had just re-watched the pilot episode of that show, and he could check the cheekbones, jaw, and eyebrows off on that list. So now, of course, I’m distracting myself from my own writing and wondering if the casting folks of the show had read a similar article:)

    1. I think that casting agents in general cast for testosterone for stars.
      Always be a character actor.

  11. The minute I read Matt Bomer, a viral tweet came to mind. Sadly it seems to be deleted now. 😢 Similar faces to his, NOT including Henry Cavill.

    I can see the Batman-era Christian Bale as Carter, except, give him lips. I never thought of the Archer men as thin-lipped ala Hiddleston etc.

    Tom Welling and Ian Somerhalder at the height of their respective games always looked similar to me. They might fit as “polished but it’s a veneer.”

  12. Maybe Jude Law circa 2005 or Theo James (Golden Boy) for Nate? Sounds like you have your Anna/Lucy but just in case, there’s Rachelle Lefevre – she'[s even been featured in modern dog.

    1. I used Jude Law for Rankin the new boss, mainly because he annoys me. He was the frog in The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, too.

  13. May I suggest Luke McFarland? He came to mind, but it could be because my 11 year old is obsessed with Hallmark Movies and he’s in approximately 247 of them…

    1. And coincidentally Wentworth Miller’s boyfriend. Nate’s kind of moved out of avatar territory now and into just Nate in my head. It’s what happens when a book starts to gel.

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