Fantasy Casting of Book Characters

Firstly: generally, I hate this idea of casting book characters! HATE it!

Many authors and book reviewers love to “cast” the books they’re writing or reading. This makes sense for an author to have some inspiration to go by, a visual cue just as you might have for pictures of places you’re setting your book. In fact, I love to research the locations the scenes of a book I’m reading are taking place in.

However, attraction is a very different thing, and I’ve had books ruined by “fantasy casting”. I tend to stay away from certain books’ reviews (the Big Series books that attract all the fangirls) for this reason. As soon as an image of someone… totally wrong-looking is put in my head, I can’t erase it and therefore the characters are ruined for me.

Apart from anything else, too often the actors or models chosen are people I dislike in real life, for their attitudes, their behaviour, the crimes they’ve committed, the thirty relationships they’ve had that ended because of cheating… I don’t like Hollywood much in general and hardly ever go to the movies or obsess over television shows.

But too often it’s not reviewers; it’s the authors doing it. For example, at the beginning of a contemporary romance I read recently, I was told the sexy, rugged hero looked like Tom Hanks. Now, Forrest, Forrest Gump, I think you’re sweet, but this is not what I find attractive!

 Tom Hanks 1

If you want to create a believable female character in her early twenties, it’s best not to have her comparing her love interest to a dopey man who is nearly three times her age!

Another author, this time of historical romances, has Pinterest boards full of fantasy casting for her series. I made the mistake of browsing them one day – and had her characters ruined for me. “Casting” modern-day Hollywood stars, complete with heavy makeup, revealing clothes and overtly (modern-day) “sexy” poses – it ruins the historical context of the book for me. Also, I didn’t find the actors chosen remotely appealing!

Some other authors have “cast” Mark Harmon (using very recent pictures) as their hero. I have nothing against the man, but I don’t find him attractive, young or in his mid-sixties as he is now – he’s just so forgettable-looking! Plus I can’t stand NCIS. I understand most authors are older than the characters they’re writing, but this is not what I want in my head when picturing a hot twenty-five year old hero:

 Medien-Der-US-amerikanische-Schauspieler-Mark-Harmon-spielt-die-Hauptrolle-in-der-Krimiserie-Navy-CIS-

I can think of exactly ONE time an author using actors for their books worked for me: Sylvia Day choosing Henry Cavill for her Crossfire series:

 Henry Cavill Crossfire Series

He’s even dressed for the part!

I have no problem with people using pictures as character inspiration. But I really don’t want to hear who you chose!

Those “Strong Heroines”

One quick internet search will turn up a gazillion articles about how people are getting so-called strong heroines wrong, both in books and in Hollywood. About how recently the idea has been that if you stick a gun in the hand of a doormat, then that’s it. Or dress your doormat like a lumberjack, and then she’s obviously not one of those silly girly girls.

I keep trying to read more romantic suspense, but I am having a bit of trouble finding what I want to read. And I’ve recently realised it’s because of this very issue.

Some people criticise romantic suspense for turning women into victims, and I do know that is sometimes – sometimes – the case. I guess as a result of this, recently I’ve been able to find almost exclusively suspense books with gun-toting women who reject makeup and dresses.

Suddenly – apparently – they’re empowered because of their deadly accessories and lack of fashion sense. They’re allegedly better than past women in romantic suspense.

I don’t think so!

There are a lot of books coming out now with heroines who are in the Special Forces – something that isn’t yet (but will soon be) a reality. But… have you SEEN a Special Forces soldier?

US Navy SEAL Training.

US Navy SEALs

How am I supposed to relate to women like that?!

There are always exceptions to the rule. Kaylea Cross writes some of the best suspense out there, and her Bagram Special Ops series is not only brilliant, but features heroines who are in the military. This is a perfect example of how to do it right.

However, for every Kaylea Cross, there’re a million others who are sticking guns in their heroines’ hands and still making them weak. I’m reading about Special Forces heroines who still spend the whole book crying and getting gang raped and being cared for by all the men around them. They’re the characters having breakdowns at unfortunate, dangerous times.

There’s NO difference between these women and any other romance heroine – except they have a gun in their hand and dirt on their face while they’re doing things.

Series that have been running for a while, both in romantic suspense and paranormal romance, have run-of-the-mill heroines in the earlier books, and martial artist, warrior heroines in the later books. Everyone’s jumping on the superhero leading lady bandwagon.

Some people are doing a great job with it.

However, I’m missing heroines I can relate to. Which is why I’m reading less romantic suspense now than I ever have.

Military Heroines

Our Girl Series 1

I wrote before about how I’m not enjoying a lot of the new romantic suspense coming out, because it’s focused on making women “strong” by sticking a gun in their hands and doing nothing more to create characters I can enjoy reading about.

Well, I recently discovered the BBC series Our Girl, which is about a working class girl from London who surprises everyone by joining the British Army and becoming a medic in the middle of danger in Afghanistan.

Well, if you’re wondering how I’d like to see my military heroines, this might be a really nice place to go for inspiration!

Our Girl BBC.

I would NOT be good in the military. It would be my version of hell. So if I’m going to be reading about women I’m supposed to relate to, in this sort of work, I want a sympathetic, mentally and emotionally strong heroine. What I don’t want is Arnold Schwarzenegger – female version.

You should be able to watch Our Girl on YouTube (I did). However, it has also been screening on television in a few places. I really enjoyed it.

Does this kind of thing bother you?

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas StepbackHard as You Can by Laura Kaye 2

Okay, so I get that romance fiction is supposed to be a little idealistic, but so often I catch myself reading something and worrying for the characters’ wellbeing.

I’m not talking about crazy stalker heroes or domestic abuse or any of those Big Issues here, but the more mundane stuff.

Like, how come heroines always have such soft skin and hair but they’re always in and out of the shower without using anything like moisturising cream or hair conditioner?

How come so many sexy-looking heroes and heroines eat so much and do no exercise?

How come so many rich heroes never seem to do any work?

How come heroes so often romance their heroines with a massive, multi-course meal, and she’s up for sex immediately afterwards? I’d want a day-long nap to digest after stuffing myself with a week’s worth of food!

And how come there are so many scenes where the couple is at a bar or a restaurant all evening and then goes home and falls directly into bed, has sex, sleeps, wakes up and does the sex stuff all over again… And yet they never need to make a trip to the bathroom? (Sorry! but I can’t help noticing this stuff!)

How come in so many books the heroine is on the run for ages, or staying somewhere with none of her personal stuff, and she still manages to look gorgeous and have long, flowing, shiny, soft hair and smooth legs even though you never hear about a hairbrush or razor?

This is why I can’t be a normal romance reader. I’m always worrying about the realistic stuff!

I’m Bored!

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I do a lot of my reading while I’m exercising, and recently I’ve started dreading that time of day.

Not because I don’t want to exercise, but because I don’t want to read.

I’d love it if publishers could enforce a rule for a year. Ban these terms:

Billionaire. Navy SEAL. Bluestocking. MMA Fighter. Cowboy. Duke.

PLEASE! Let’s see what authors can do when their comfort zones are taken away!

I have a few dozen review books I can’t even bring myself to start, and I have a pretty good idea that I could write reviews for them without even reading the first page. Actually, I could save even more time and just copy and paste an old review for a different book. It would still be accurate.

Robyn Carr Virgin River Series

When Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series got everyone excited, publishers decided that from then on they were only going to accept books that were exact copies of that series. I loved Bella Andre’s fire-fighter themed romantic suspense series, and was really looking forward to the final book. Only to discover it had become another VR-style small town romance.

Wild Heat by Bella Andre

Book One

I later found out Andre got dumped from her publisher because they didn’t want her suspense books, because – you know – People Only Want To Read Small Town Romances.

Then publishers started telling us all these ridiculous theories about why People Only Want To Read Small Town Romances. They blamed it on everything from the US economy to the war in Iraq.

I call BS on that. The reason Virgin River was popular was because Robyn Carr wrote great books. But you know what? I didn’t want to read everyone else trying to rewrite Virgin River!

Suzanne Brockmann revolutionised suspense when she wrote her Navy SEAL series in the late 90s and early 2000s. If you’re only going to read two or three SEAL books in your life, choose from The Defiant Hero, Over the Edge and Out of Control.

The Defiant Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

However, just because Brockmann wrote something brilliant doesn’t mean every single other hero in every single suspense or contemporary book from here on has to be a SEAL. I’ve just come across a series that’s about SEALs who go on a holiday cruise together, and there they all meet women and fall in love with them, and there’s some BDSM involved, and CAN ANYBODY TELL ME WHAT THIS HAS TO DO WITH THE MILITARY??

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

Not to mention the huge number of historical romances I’ve read in the last few years where authors have pretty much stolen scenes from Lisa Kleypas‘ books. They’ve quite literally written Kleypas’ scenes, but with just enough changes that it couldn’t be called plagiarism. No originality. Just “more of the same”.

I hate that publishers think that just because someone wrote a book that was good, for the rest of eternity ONLY that exact book can be written and published.

The romance industry has made SEALs into a joke. I go out of my way to NOT read about them anymore, even though military romance is a genre I used to love to pieces (and still do with a few authors). Seeing yet another series coming out that’s attempting to be Virgin River 2.0 makes me want to cry.

I can’t believe it, but at the moment I’m almost sick of reading. And that is entirely the fault of today’s publishers and editors.