Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why I used to care about hair color and now don’t.

To start with, this post is not my own hair color, which is pretty boring. I used to open a book and look for the scene where the writer described the heroine.
Actively hunt it down, because I must have cared.
Why? Sad thing is, I can’t remember.
This is a while ago, before I started writing myself, but I remember it being really important. I needed a visual of her, more than I needed to know what she was like, character flaws, any of that stuff. And to be frank, and I’m not proud of this, I wanted her to be beautiful.
Perhaps it connects back to the whole reading as escapism, which I know is particularly true with romance. It was easier to get swept up into another world if I could place myself in the shoes of someone who was gorgeous and virtuous and in hindsight, pretty uninteresting.
Now, a few years later, I don’t really care what she looks like, unless it enhances her character in some way. I really dislike virtuous heroines, I find them boring and for a book to really sweep me up, it has to be different, unique and have characters who are deeply flawed and conflicted.
What’s the difference between now and ten years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s the writing, although I’m also sure a lot of readers out there would make a good case for non-writers also not caring about the heroine’s hair color.

But sometimes I worry that puts me out of touch with some potential readers. By trying to create books I want to read, am I creating books that don’t have enough escapism, characters who have too many flaws, am I skipping over that all important description scene(which I know I do now)

The answer won’t change anything. I write the books I want to read, or what’s the point.
But perhaps I should try for a balance between escapism and character, which is what I’m trying to do now.


Maureen McGowan said...

Very interesting post, Sinead!

I do think readers are changing, too... Most readers of commercial/popular fiction don't want their books bogged down with description and if the writer doesn't give a detail like hair colour, the reader probably projects one onto the character. I think what can pull a reader out is not to mention hair colour for the first 50 pages and then mention it... If the reader has already decided the character is blonde/brunette/whatever, it'll be a shock to find out the hair is red (or bright blue).

PS. Back on line! Thanks for posting today!

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think part of it might be our age now too -- I used to read Judith McNaught's first ffew scenes for that moment when the heroine would curse her unruly curls waiting to find out if those curls were the color of a wheat field or perhaps a sunset...

But I think you're right -- readers don't identify with the fantasy of a "bosom too big for her small frame" (Another McNaught favorite) Now we identify with heroines who get cuaght in traffic and spill thier coffee and yet still manage to get the guy in the end... that works better for me as I sit here in my spit up and snot splattered flannel shirt.

Kimber said...

Ya gotta address appearance.

Look at sales of cosmetics, hair color, the hot new fashions, shows like Extreme Makeover, what not to wear, etc. The average woman spends a lot of time, money and energy on her appearance. Why wouldn't your heroine do the same?

Someone who chooses to color her hair blonde, brunette or redhead is telling the world who she is (or wants to be). She will behave differently. People will react to her differently.

In other words, the internal and external are linked. I use the external description of characters to show the readers about the internal.

Anonymous said...

Now that's funny. Reading that made me realize I used to hunt down the locale. I had to know before I even bought the book - whether found on the back blurb or the first page or two. I didn't read "Good in Bed" for the first year it was out because it was set in Philly. Finally, I was convinced to buy it anyway and Jennifer Weiner even made Philly sound cool and hip. :)

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