Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Visualizing my characters

It's inevitable - authors are forced at some point to describe their characters to readers who ask.

'So what does Jana in According to Luke look like?'
'A handsome priest - handsome like who?'
'Oh - a ruthless businesswoman - striking? Beautiful? Well-groomed?'

Christopher Lloyd
All those questions and many more were asked at one book signing. I did the best I could - and tried to hark back to when I started writing According to Luke. How did I see these characters? I found it impossible to think of Bryn Awbrey, the shambling Welsh professor, without visualizing who might play him in a movie. I could not get past Christopher Lloyd. This movie star is Bryn Awbrey all over - he would play the professor perfectly.

I can see him in his chaotic study, where every redundant scrap of paper from the university library seemed to find its final resting place. Boxes of academic journals, files and folders, cabinets bursting with sheaves and sheaves of paper, and bookcases bulging with thousands of books. He sits there, thinking, and his grey head nods and shifts - he is asked questions and he reaches for books. He knows where everything is, you see, and would be dismayed if anyone were to 'tidy up'.

I can see Christopher Lloyd as Bryn Awbrey catching a train from Venice to Ravenna, in the company of anxious Jana Hayes. He puts his large hand on hers, and says something so perceptive and so perspicacious about her private life that she is startled: startled to find she has always wanted this. She has missed not having a father, an uncle, or an understanding Grandad who could look into her eyes, understand, and console.

Bryn is eccentric and easily roused, especially if it's a puzzle or a mystery you have come to him with: his grey hair moves with his agitation, and he shakes his large hands and widens his soft brown eyes. Then his whole face breaks into a huge grin. What does he do next? He pours you a cup of tea from an enormous yellow teapot, into an unmatched yellow cup, and cuts you a large wedge of panettone, the Italian cake foreigners only eat at Christmas. How could you not feel comforted by his hospitality, untidy though it is?

I do know that many authors feel the same affection I have for Bryn Awbrey for some of their characters. An author spends almost a year with a bunch of characters, nursing them from creation to whatever end is in store for them at the end of the novel. During that time, characters can take life, have reality breathed into them, materialize and morph into a tangible personality. Describing that to a reader is not always possible.

I think I manage though, when I answer the question about what Bryn Awbrey looks like, when I say 'Christopher Lloyd!'

Tell me about your favourite book characters, and how you visualize them. Do you assign a movie star to represent them in your head as you read?

If you are an author, tell me how you go about describing characters to readers who ask.

If you have read According to Luke, tell me whether you see Bryn Awbrey in quite the same way.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Yes, Mr. Lloyd would be the quintessential Bryne. I want Clive Owen for Klast in my books.

  2. Good post, Rosanne. I never know how to answer that question. I don't usually see my characters as anyone famous and I've usually described them to the best of my ability. I tend to mumble and shuffle away... :)

  3. Great post! I agree, Lloyd would make a great professor in any film. It might be helpful when writing to draw pics or get examples of how we view our characters. Just a thought. I haven't tried it yet, but I just might.

  4. Think he looks perfect for the part of Bryn, Rosanne.
    I had to answer that question in a recent interview and though Abby from Streets on Map would have liked to believe Catherine Zeta Jones might play her, she realistically settled for a dark haired Amy Adams. I admit till confronted by that question I had never thought about movie stars who would play my characters. I could descroibe Abby easily to a reader because I worked from a real person I saw initially. One thing that makes me cautious about seeing The Help is I'm not sure those playing the parts match my visual images.

  5. The difficult thing with me is that I don't watch movies! I barely watch one a year. And I haven't watched much TV in the past 7 years, either. So I rely on memory. I much prefer a book to its movie version, of course.

  6. If 'According to Luke' becomes a movie, I bags the part of Bryn Awbrey. I'm old and wizened, kinda wise-looking in my owl specs, and -- because my late mum and half my family is Welsh, I have the accent down pat! Problem is, I can't act for toffee. Neil