Authors spend a lot of time creating their characters, but as readers do we really care? Won’t you quickly make up your own mind how these heroes look anyway? For example how do you prefer your fairy princesses or fairy queens? Would you rather Cate Blanchett, the elvish Queen Galadriel from Lord of the Rings, who kind of glows all the time with so much wisdom, righteousness and love it must be a right bastard for her to get a decent night’s sleep, or would you vote for Princess Fiona from Shrek? (In Cameron Diaz daytime mode, not the ogre version – not that I have any issues with ogres).
Who’s your go-to knight in shining armour? Again, the dashing chaps in Lord of the Rings are mostly square-jawed, steely-eyed handsome guys who will never disappoint any damsels in distress they happen to stumble across and rescue. In comparison, the blokes in Game of Thrones tend to be a little more grubby and should be in a quest for a good bath, not magic shit. I know a lot of women don’t mind the rugged, recently-rolled-in-the-dirt look, but BO is still BO. You wouldn’t want these guys sitting on your best lounge suite without putting down a sheet first. Wipe your boots at the door, too. A lot.
The point is, when we see in our mind’s eye the heroes and heroines we’re reading about in a story, most likely and despite the author’s best efforts, we’ll slowly replace that character’s appearance with our preferred idea of what they should look like. Sometimes we don’t even bother with the author’s description. I reckon this is particularly true in Erotica or Romance stories. Who wants to spoil their sexual fantasies with unhelpful details of the lovers’ real appearance? Have you ever read Fifty Shades of Grey? Do you have any idea what Christian Grey or Anastasia Steele are supposed to look like? Did you ever even think about it?
It’s why, when you watch the movie version of a book you’ve already read, that seeing the characters for the first time can be a bit disappointing or at least needing some mental adjustment. By the way, Fifty Shades of Grey should be out as a movie next year. More than a few million people might not approve of the actors who are cast, if they don’t fit the imaginary bill.
Dwarves aren’t such a problem, because you’re not often asked to imagine a dwarf. You’d have to agree that Tyrion Lannister of Game Of Thrones has probably got the Most Popular Dwarf award cornered, except maybe for Gimli from Lord of the Rings – a character, by the way, played by John Rhys-Davies who is 6ft 1in tall (185cm). Still, if I had to create a dwarf for one of my books – a likeable dwarf (evil dwarves are easy, just think Mini-Me) – he’d be a kind of very short version of Brad Pitt mixed with George Clooney, plus add a dash of all the lads in One Direction to cater for a younger readership.
In my Lukas Boston Mystery detective novels, since they often sneak into a rich humour, I’ve made Lucas outrageously good-looking and impossibly attractive to women, awesome in bed, charming, witty… you know the rest – which gives me a lot of fun to play with when Lucas’ charms fail to make an impact. He sort of can’t believe it, when a beautiful woman rejects him.
Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if many female readers will still mentally replace Lucas’ roguish appeal with a bloke who better fits their image of the ideal man. And that’s okay. It’s all part of your joy of reading books, rather than watching a film where so many choices aren’t yours to make. There is a lot of missing background story and detail in a novel that you’re more than welcome to create for yourself and make it all the more enjoyable. If there’s anything important that affects the plot somehow – like the hero is really short or maybe fat and it is a crucial element to the story at some point, then it’s up to the author to remind the readers about this at regular moments. We have to drop hints or make some aside references every now and again, so when our main guy (or girl) can’t reach the top shelf or doesn’t fit through the door in a hurry – and this is a pivotal moment in the plot – the readers don’t think “Oh, that’s right, he really short/fat”… they already remember and know.
Otherwise, while we can’t – as authors – take the easy way out and suggest you make up your own characters at the beginning of any book like you’re filling in some sort of Ikea Hero/Heroine mail-order form, and we have to make an effort to describe the flesh and blood bits, I suspect that your imagined dwarf will always be somehow better than ours, your princesses will be more beautiful, your heroines more stunning and your knights in shining armour – thanks to Game of Thrones’ enormous success – will forever be in desperate need of a good scrub and a lot of deodorant.
Graeme Hague (published under G.M.Hague) is the author of the Lukas Boston Mystery series of cozy crime novellas, which you can find here, plus he has been traditionally published in the horror, crime and historical fiction genres and his past print books are available as ebooks from Momentum Books here.