Ask a writer about their relationship to their characters and you might get answers that sound downright concerning. They will talk about a person that only exists on paper as if he or she is made of flesh and blood, and got a fully developed personality. To make things even worse, they might even claim that they take on a life on their own sometimes, as if it’s no longer up to the writer to keep the character alive and
out of in trouble.
I’m new at this. I’ve only been writing for a few months and my husband is still not quite over the shock that his wife, who’s never displayed a vivid imagination or hyperactive fantasy, appears to have a whole bunch of people he’s never met before, residing inside her head.
I like to think I know these characters incredibly well by now, and that I can come up with an answer to virtually any question thrown at me regarding anything from that time they fought the school bully in primary school, to their shoe sizes. I know whether they prefer broccoli or green beans, whiskey or wine, what makes them flare up in anger and laugh out loud. If they got an allergy, I’ll know about it. Skew pinkie? Of course I’d know.
But there’s one thing about them that isn’t always crystal clear to me, and that’s how they look. Sure, I can give a rough description. I’ll know the color of their eyes and hair, and I have a pretty good idea of their physics, but they tend to be a little bit like Wanted posters in my head. A rough outline, rather than a detailed portrait.
In a group on Scribophile (I recommend that site, by the way) there’s a strong focus on muses. Perhaps especially romance writers, working in a genre that relies heavily on physical attributes, benefit from knowing exactly how their main characters look in order to describe them properly.
After racking my brain regarding one of my characters, I decided I was going to hunt him down. I was going to find this guy, or rather, the suitable muse to use as inspiration for him.
What did I know about my character that could point me in the right direction?
- Name: Nick van der Merwe.
- Photographer, focusing on wildlife and nature photography
- Restless, adventurous soul that uses the world as his playground
- Age: 30
- Born on a livestock farm in southern Namibia
- His native tongue is Afrikaans, but that’s so long ago, he’s now speaking a typical South African English
- Tall and lean, rather than muscular
- Blond to dark blond hair
- Blue eyes
- Diagnosed with diabetes type 1 at the age of 12
- Drives a open, two-seater jeep.
- General impression: Messy hair in a random, careless way. The out-of-bed-hairstyle is just that, not a result of wax and styling. Unshaved (but not full beard), except for very special occasions, and when he goes scuba diving (masks tend to leak if hair get in the way). On those very special occasions, he might be able to dig out a half-decent shirt from his backpack that isn’t too crinkled. I said might. More often than not, it’s too much to ask for. Actually, one should probably be happy that he’s at all attending, because he could be stuck in the jungle somewhere. He’s the kind of guy who wears a scarf in case he’ll need a towel, or run into a sandstorm. And he knows all the tools on his Leatherman, and even makes use of them regularly. He prefers solitude in nature to the hectic urban scene.
So this I knew beforehand. Now, where to find him?
On Google, of course. Different keywords provided me with heaps of wonderful guys that could make any girl’s heart pick up speed. Scrolling through, with my husband suspiciously looking over my shoulder thinking “Now what?” I dismissed hundreds of specimens I’m sure Darwin would claim belonged in the Fittest group.
Oh! But no, not him…
Goodness me, is that guy for real? It’s not him though…unfortunately…
Hello Handsome! But no…
Jeez, it’s hot in here, but also not…
N…oh hang on….Scroll back. Yes! Hello Nick.
As the curious creature I am, I decided I to do a basic background check on the guy. And this is where it all turned a bit puzzling.
Now, the funny thing isn’t that I was able to dig up a handsome man on the Internet. That’s an idiot proof task. The funny thing is that…of all those men that I scrolled through, and with all the nationalities and professions I had to choose from, I coincidentally ended up with a South African model who’s also an aspiring photographer, with the perfect South African English. He drives a Suzuki jeep and he’s a grease monkey in his own workshop.
Is it just me, or is that kinda weird?
Hello Nick. I mean, Devin.