Tessa Dare | New York Times Bestselling Author
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Tuesday, November 18th, 2008
A picture is worth a thousand words (My process, part 4)

So, moving right along with the writing process…

I’ve got characters, a vague plot built around these “moments”, and I’ve started my research.  As part of the research, I collect pictures.  I find it helpful to imagine my settings and characters’ physical traits from the foundation of a painting or photograph of an actual place or person.  Or horse.

For example, for the book I’m working on right now (working title The Desire of a Duke, since it includes the essential Tessa Dare titling element: the word “of”, LOL), I’m loosely basing the hero’s estate on an actual estate in Cambridgeshire: Wimpole Hall.  Pretty impressive, no?

And there’s a very important racehorse in the book, who I am making the fictional “great-grandchild” of the famous stallion Eclipse.

Lastly, I also pick celebrity models for my hero and heroine.  I know different authors have mixed feelings about this – I don’t know why I find it so helpful, but I do.  It’s important that it not be just a photo of a model, but someone I can watch in action, on TV or in movies.  Somehow this helps me develop a visual image of how my character moves, reacts, stands, sits, relaxes, and so forth.  Seldom does the character in my mind match up exactly with his/her inspiration, but it’s just a helpful starting place.

If you’re one of those readers who prefers her own imagination, I’ll put the pictures of my Spencer and Amelia inspirations below the fold:

My inspiration for Spencer, aka the Duke of Morland:  Rufus Sewell.  Tall, dark, lean, slightly brooding, unnervingly handsome.  Something about this man’s features and bearing just projects the right mix of sexy confidence, sly wit, and above all, extreme intelligence that I need for Spencer.  And he often gets cast in villain roles, which is appropriate for Spence, too.

To “cast” as his heroine, I needed an actress who is not a conventional beauty – someone who can look (with all due apologies to her) sort of common on first glance, but exceedingly lovely on closer inspection.

For Amelia, I’m using English actress Anna Maxwell Martin.  You may recognize her from supporting roles in North and South (Bessy Higgins) and Becoming Jane (Cassandra, Jane’s sister).  She’s also got a great deal of intelligence and confidence that comes through in her physicality, but in a distinctly feminine way–all this makes her very Amelia.

So there they are!  What do you think?

18 comments to “A picture is worth a thousand words (My process, part 4)”

  1. Elyssa
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    1
      · November 18th, 2008 at 1:28 pm · Link

    Ohh, Tessa what a great blog. I’m a visual person, so I try to orient myself in pictures all the time, especially when I’m writing.

    Okay, I want to live in that estate. Rufus is sexily dark and brooding, and the inspiration for Amelia is great, too. I loved her in North & South (but why did Bessie have to die :( ).

    And I like the working title a lot. I’m calling dibs on reading it whenever you’re done. *g*

    For my current WIP, I’m using Gabriel Aubry (the very hot model and boyfriend/lover of Halle Berry) as the rock star–http://www.wags.it/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/gabriel-aubry.jpg. I just realized I really have a thing for scruffy looking men. LOL.

    The heroine was more problesome for me. I kept trying to make her a brunette or someone with dark hair. It wasn’t happening. It wasn’t until I saw Kate Winslet in the recent Vanity Fair spread where I went oh this is soooo Portia (http://theimproper.com/Images/Art/Kate2.jpg). My heroine is that understated sexy that people pass off as conventionally pretty but like your heroine, the more time you get to know her, the prettier she becomes. (Sorry about the horrible grammar)!

    I just found the inspiration for the Vermont lakehouse last night—http://www.grandislelakehouse.com/

    It’s always so interesting to see who and what is the inspiration for our characters. Thanks so much for sharing another insight into your process!



  2. Elyssa
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    2
      · November 18th, 2008 at 1:34 pm · Link

    I don’t know if my comment went through or not. Something’s rotten in the state of the Internet.

    So, let me summarize briefly. Love the photos. It’s such an interesting insiders’ look! I love hearing about processes and seeing who was the inspiration for your characters.

    Can you tell us anything about the book and what it might be about?



  3. Tessa
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    3
      · November 18th, 2008 at 1:57 pm · Link

    Sorry about that, Ely! I think it got caught in the spam filter because of the number of URLs. I will answer more later…darelings need lunch. :)



  4. kelly krysten
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    4
      · November 18th, 2008 at 2:05 pm · Link

    Really great post, Tessa! I like to have pictures for my characters. But this time around I haven’t found anyone that fits these guys. I love hearing your working process. Keep it coming!!:)



  5. Janga
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    5
      · November 18th, 2008 at 4:37 pm · Link

    I love all these process blogs, Tessa. And like Ely, I’m eager to hear more about the new book.

    I’m one of those writers who prefers the images in my head to RL inspirations. What I did find immensely helpful was adapting the video collage idea that one of the Noodlers blogged about. I used not a single actor or model but lots of different ones who were the right “type.” Actually more of my images are portraits than celebrity photos. So if I want inspiration for a scene where Max is dancing with his young daughter, I pause the collage on a portrait of a father dancing with his pre-schooler. I look at the joy in his smile, the tenderness with which he holds the little girl’s hands, the way her tiny shoes rest on his, the absolute adoration in her eyes turned up to his. In my mind, I see them as Max and Lauren, and I come away with all I need to write my scene.

    I have images for all my characters, even the dog, and for the houses, a restaurant, a bar, a boutique. It’s not as anal as it sounds since many of them I am using in the other books in the trilogy.



  6. Maggie Robinson
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    6
      · November 18th, 2008 at 7:52 pm · Link

    I love Rufus Sewell, even tho he usually plays a rotter.

    I’ve always had difficulty matching real people to the characters in my head, but I recently found a model for a clothing line that looks like my current hero to me…but the character existed before I fever saw the picture. I’ve also found some paintings that evoke the spirit of the heroines of the trilogy I’m working on, even if they don’t look 100% perfect. I’m just not reality-based at all, LOL.



  7. terrio
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    7
      · November 19th, 2008 at 9:23 am · Link

    I too love these process blogs, Tessa. Rufus Sewell is great inspiration. I won’t watch that new show he’s in (Eleventh Hour) because I know I’ll be hooked and I don’t have time for another show obsession. LOL!

    I usually stick to my imagination for my characters because I can see them so clearly and they are unique individuals to me. However, I do sometimes find pics of real people that come close to them. I started collecting pictures of things like living rooms and close ups of flowers which would represent my heroine’s photography. But I need to collect much more.

    Somehow British actors always portray that intelligence better than most others. Not sure why, but they just do.



  8. Manda
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    8
      · November 20th, 2008 at 9:46 am · Link

    Great blog, Tessa! I don’t usually comment but I’ve been following. But Rufus Sewell brought me out of my Google Reader;) What a hottie. I’ve loved him since he played Ladislaw in that BBC Middlemarch production years ago. He’s the star of my pretend Pre-Raphaelites movie (I think he’d make a great Dante Gabriel Rossetti!)

    I’ve been doing research for my next book as well and I love being able to look at pictures and maps of all the great English estates. I’ve got Duncombe Park in Yorkshire as the location for mine:) Gotta love the internets.

    I also LOVE the racehorse. God all these little details could keep you busy for days. I have to work really hard to stop researching and start writing or I’d spend all my time ferreting out tiny details…



  9. Tessa
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    9
      · November 20th, 2008 at 4:30 pm · Link

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! And for sharing the Rufus lurve!

    Ely, Gabriel Aubry is gorgeous! I think he should be on the cover. And I love Kate Winslet, too. I think there’s a bit of her in Amelia, because she has the right body type – very curvy and womanly.

    Janga, I love your collage idea. I don’t know why, but video just helps me more than a still photo. I think it’s because I don’t use these actors as models for features so much as I do for mannerisms, reactions, bearing, etc.

    Maggie, Rufus does play the baddie a lot, doesn’t he? But I like that about him, because Spencer can easily come across as very arrogant and cold to those who don’t know him well. And…there aren’t many people who know him well. In fact, Amelia may become the first, LOL
    .
    Terri – Hold the phone. Rufus is on TV?? Weekly?? LOL. I had no idea that new series even existed, that’s how often I watch TV. But it will be going on the DVR toute de suite. Yurm!

    Manda – I haven’t seen that Middlemarch adaptation, either! But I should, considering that Middlemarch is responsible for my pen name (long story; one which would horrify Eliot, I’m sure). I first fell for him in Cold Comfort Farm. I think I’ll be blogging about that film someday…it has been heavily influential on my tongue-in-cheek approach to historical romance. “I saw something nasty in the woodshed…” :)



  10. Tessa
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    10
      · November 20th, 2008 at 4:36 pm · Link

    Oh, and thanks Kelly!
    I’m glad this isn’t completely boring you all.

    As for telling you a little about the book, as Ely suggested…hm. I think I could ramble on for pages about the book, but I’m not sure I’m at the point where I can tell you a little about the book and have it make sense. Dangit, why do I always do that part back-asswards?

    Let me just tease you by saying, I’m calling it the Stud Club trilogy.



  11. Santa
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    11
      · November 20th, 2008 at 9:23 pm · Link

    So let it be written – Stud Club will be forever imprinted on my head no matter how many twists and turns the series will take.

    Rufus has some nice digs there! He could spend a year in one wing and never see all of it, lol. Just as it should be!

    Can’t say that I use RL celebrities when I think up my characters but I use people from real life. Strangers really. An accent, their build and features come from a myriad of people I encounter every day. Then I keep that person in my head.



  12. Tessa
    Comment
    12
      · November 20th, 2008 at 11:38 pm · Link

    You use people from RL, Santa? That’s brave…if I did that, I’d be sure to never tell them. :)

    Okay, so I am right now watching this Eleventh Hour program. I must say, this is not dialogue worthy of Rufus. And without the accent…it’s just not nearly as sexy when he says these big scientific words like “amygdala.” Okay, he just poured a canister of cashews on a bedspread and used them as some nutty metaphor for experimental data, to explain that tricky concept of scientific evidence to his manga-eyed 19yo sidekick. ROFL. And then they just left! Without even eating them! Real men don’t waste cashews!! Whatever. Now they are on the trail of a psycho murdering chimp. I think I’ll take my Rufus fix in feature film gelcaps from now on, but that was good for some laughs.

    Maybe I should live-blog TV more often. *evil grin*



  13. Alice Audrey
    Comment
    13
      · November 21st, 2008 at 9:27 am · Link

    I’ve tried the photo thing before, but find I quickly forget about it and go off my own way with the character. I can have the picture posted right in front of me, and just not notice it.



  14. Elyssa
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    14
      · November 21st, 2008 at 10:51 am · Link

    The Stud Trilogy. See this can apply to both horses and the men. Very clever. Very sexy. And I want to know more. (I don’t mind long, rambling e-mails–hint, hint).

    What I don’t get about the Rufus Sewell tv series along with the Simon Baker one is that they have these very sexy actors hide their very sexy accents. I so think there’d be more interest if the actors could be say a sexy Englishman or a sexy Australian who just happe to deal in these outrageous situations.

    The live tv blogging was fun, and I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen Cold Comfort Farm, so definitely blog about it!



  15. Elyssa
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    15
      · November 21st, 2008 at 12:16 pm · Link

    Tessa, I’m curious about your other books. I know Clive Owen was the inspiration for Jeremy but what about the others?



  16. Tessa
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    16
      · November 21st, 2008 at 4:46 pm · Link

    Oh, Ely – put CCF on your Netflix queue. It’s really good for a laugh.

    Good question, about the other heroes. For Gray (Surrender of a Siren), since he is a gentleman/scoundrel hybrid, I had a picture of Hugh Jackman looking rather brawny and scruffy – probably taken around the time of one of his X-Men filmings. I love that about Hugh – he can be refined or rough-n-ready, as the situation warrants. That’s the quality I wanted for Gray, even though his face looks pretty different from Hugh’s in my imagination.

    Then there was Toby (A Lady of Persuasion) – and this why I’m glad you asked the question, because I had to change my inspiration for him mid-book. he’s a playboy and a charmer with a lot of self-effacing good humor, and I started out writing with Jude Law in mind. But then when she read the partial, my editor thought he was coming across a bit…twee, shall we say? (Sorry, Jude!) So I thought I needed a new model, a slightly more macho one, and I found a picture of Brad Pitt looking all clean cut and debonair in Meet Joe Black (which I’ve never seen). I sort of merged the two together in my mind, and that made a big difference in how I wrote Toby.

    And you know you’ll get first glance at the Studs when they’re fit to be seen! ;)



  17. Tessa
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    17
      · November 21st, 2008 at 4:49 pm · Link

    Oh, and I totally agree with you re: letting stars keep their accents. Why mess with a good, good thing? In that show, Rufus sounds like he’s doing some sort of mix of Clint Eastwood and Christopher Walken. It’s just not right.



  18. Tessa
    Comment
    18
      · November 21st, 2008 at 4:51 pm · Link

    And AA – first, hi! Second, I hear ya – I don’t really look at the pictures that much as I write. I just sort of internalize them, and they morph in my imagination. And just because it helps me, doesn’t mean it would be helpful to anyone else. Lord knows there are a myriad of much-touted writing techniques that give me nothing but hives.