Placeholders, the Use Of

I’ve always used pictures of placeholders in my work, just to keep my vision of a character clear until they came alive on the page. Once a character takes off, the placeholder falls away, but until then, the pictures act as touchstones. This becomes doubly important when collaborating. You really need to be on the same page or photo for that. So here are some of the placeholders that Bob and I have used.

Liz and Vince from Lavender’s Blue
I’d always seen Liz as Mary from In Plain Sight, but I’d cycled through several Vinces, never quite able to get it right, until Bob rewrote him and then it was clear to me that he was Tom Hardy from the Mad Max movie. Only, you know, he showered a lot more often.

Liz and Lavender
I wanted two women who were superficially alike (especially from the back) but totally different.

Anemone and George
Bob and I had totally different ideas for Anemone–he wanted Dolly Parton and I wanted Sue Ann Niven (only warm and loving), but since the placeholders fall away as the character becomes real, it didn’t matter. We both agreed on George.

And then when we got to the next series, we needed people who were different. Very hard not to write the same characters when you’re writing first person, so we picked very different faces for the placeholders, which have now fallen away since we’re finishing the second book. I still like how they’re very different and yet still have that Crusie/Mayer vibe.

Rose and Max from Rocky Start

So the plan for placeholders is to find pictures that somehow fit the sense of the character, not so much a lookalike, although that’s very helpful if you’re collaborating, but something that gives the personality, which is why you can use pictures of different people for one character as long as they sum up the character when taken together. Even if you don’t use collage, having pictures as a touchstone as you write is a huge help.

32 thoughts on “Placeholders, the Use Of

    1. I don’t pick the men, Bob does. I think Clive Owen has almost -black hair? Also, these aren’t so much for the physical appearance as for personality. Max, for example, has black hair shot with gray. I think part of it, too, is that brown hair is very common, much more common than fair because fair hair often tends to darken as people age.

      I am partial to brown eyes because every romance seems to have green-eyed hero in it, except for the ones that are blue-eyed. Annoying, although I did find out that the percentage of green- and blue-eyed people is falling dramatically.

      1. Or gray eyes! Basically anything but brown eyes!

        I remember old school romances where the heroine had to have violer eyes.

        My husband has the most amazing pale blue/green eyes. All our kids have brown eyes… hopefully the blue/green eyes will pop out somewhere down the line…

        1. Genetics are cruel.
          I was born with red curls.
          Still have curly hair. Still red, tganks to some powder.
          Kids by now would love to have curls.
          Straight like their father.
          At least with mx volume.
          Dh has greenish brown eyes.
          I like brown, but yes the books have too many green eyed guys/girls.
          But more brown eyed MCs havr started to appear lately. Just wait and see, the colour tide is turning!

          1. All my family – Mum, Dad, brother, aunt, uncle, grandfather – had not-brown eyes, ranging from pale blue to grey with orange flecks, so I recognized early on that my default response to brown eyes was distrust. I’ve grown out of it, I think.

      2. I only dated guys who were dark Irish or Italian or both. Hazel or brown eyes. Then a tall blond came along with deep blue eyes. Go figure.
        We’ve been married for a LONG time.

  1. Wow. I always had Kristen Chenoweth in my head as Anemone. I was evidently way off base!

  2. It is great to see these! Not exactly how the characters were in my head, but fun to see the inspiration.
    Now I’m looking forward to Rose in Rocky Start cos Maggie Gyllenhall is great.

  3. I grab pictures from deposit photos because I have to see what my characters look like so I can write about them. Also, if I haven’t figured out the perfect name, the female is always Caramello and the antagonist is always Bob. Apologies to Bob Mayer!

  4. Thanks for sharing those photos! It helps bring the characters more to life, not that the writing doesn’t do an excellent job of that.

  5. I always have some combination of real people in my mind when I’m mental-imaging a character. Sometimes it’s just one person (Rudolph Valentino for my character Sid Garcia), more often an amalgam (Danny Trejo + Keanu Reaves + Desmond Richardson for my character Sam Lee).

    Many of my characters are non-white so there’s a lot of black hair & brown eyes amongst them. I’ve never seen legit green eyes IRL but I have dark hazel-green eyes myself and have used variations of hazel for characters many, many times.

    Maggie Gyllenhaal’s face is perfect for a Crusie heroine. 🙂 She’s got that smart, mischievous, take-no-shit quality. Ooh, Annette Bening too.

    1. Back when I was in ninth grade, our bus driver (who was 16 or 17, that’s how long ago it was, bus drivers could be kids), had the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. And he was African-American. (of course, it was ‘Black’ back then). I’ve never forgot him. And his gorgeous eyes.

      I’ve only seen gray eyes once IRL… I think I like all color eyes, not partial to one shade.

  6. Interesting!, who is Eleonor in Fast Women pre and post vinegar fries ?
    Minerva and Cal?
    So many characters so many questions!

    1. Oooh! Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the images for all the books?

  7. I love all your visuals. I love the maths of the houses the maps of the towns the people you are so brilliantly visual.

  8. I would read Rocky Start, just for a heroine like Maggie Gyllenhaal, one of the best independent actresses

  9. Jenny- you might want to let people know under menu if you click Everything Else then click collages there are a bunch of them (including 1 for Bet Me). And if you click Works In Progress there are more.

  10. Love this! Love all the collages you used to do, too. When I read a book now, I usually have to find pictures before I start. No idea why since the writing shapes them. It’s like my brain wants the assist. Love the combinations you pick! I’ve put Tom Hardy with Emma Watson and sometimes with Amanda Seyfried for a few regency novels. How I wish I could see that on screen, and your Maggie G. and Clive O. would be phenomenal.

    In a perfect world in the future, I wish a movie could be crowd sourced to pick the actors. I feel like the audience could definitely come up with fun combinations.

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