During my book club’s latest meeting, a friend who’d seen the play version of a novel most of us had read, showed around some leaflets of the production and asked whether the two actors who played the leads were in accordance with how we’d imagined them. This lead to a rather funny moment, because of the six women present, three instantly claimed they never visualize the main protagonists of any novel they read, whereas the other three said they visualized them without fail, and that watching a stage or movie production later with actors that didn’t fit with their expectations, could ruin the play or film for them.
I never ever fully visualize people in books. I do kind of register their attributes – what hair color, tall or tiny, a scar etc. – but I never give them a real face. As a result, while I am bothered by actors (or even cover images) not fitting the descriptions in the books, like Emma Watson’s hair being all wrong for Hermione, as long as the actors’ looks don’t contradict what is said about these people in the book, I’m fine with about any actor.
With some attributes, not really visualizing a hero or heroine can actually help. For instance, I am quickly annoyed by characters’ unusual (and usually meaningful) eye colors, like moss, violet or amber. So as long as it’s not constantly rubbed in by the narrator, I can read about such a character quite happily thinking of him or her as green-, blue- or hazel-eyed. The same applies to heroes’ muscles. For some reason, my taste is not to heavily muscled men in real life. When I am reminded of a hero’s huge torso and each single muscle, I tend to find that off-putting or giggle-worthy. As long as I mostly ignore his muscles, I am a far happier reader.
Once I have seen a movie version, I am influenced by the way the actor who played a character looks. And it’s the first actor I’ve seen – my Mr. Darcy is far more David Rintoul than Colin Firth, much as I enjoyed the latter’s performance. To a lesser extent, this may apply to covers, as well. Mostly I am able to ignore the way the leads look on a cover, but sometimes a cover model may kind of inhibit my perception – or rather, my freedom to imagine – the heroine or hero. Naturally, this is most often the case when I find a cover really awful! As a result, I really prefer covers that can’t do this because they don’t show the leads’ faces. I love covers with flowers, landscapes, funny drawings and people with their heads cut off.
Now, I sometimes go to authors’ websites because I want to find out more about a series, and I have come across a trend of putting up photographs of people that are supposed to look like the heroes and, less often, the heroines of the books discussed on this pages – recent examples are Sherrilyn Kenyon and Roxanne St. Claire. I find those pictures really jarring. The men in the pictures usually look like male pin-ups in their early twenties, but what I want to think about is this lovely hero in the book who is 38 and has seen a lot. You’d imagine, even with all his undisputed gorgeousness, that some of this experience would be reflected in his face? Not so if you look at the pictures. So what I must mostly do after spotting such a picture is exorcise it quite thoroughly from my mind to get “my” hero back, which is a bother I prefer to avoid.
Authors – you’ll make this reader very happy by not putting up photos of your “heroes” and “heroines” on your webpages.
Fellow readers – what’s your opinion? Do you visualize romance heroes and heroines? And do you like to see their pictures at an author’s website?
– Rike Horstmann
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.