What is a face claim? And why might you want one?

The term “face claim” is usually used in the context of creative writing, particularly in fan fiction, role-playing and character design. A real person, often an actor or celebrity, is “claimed” to represent a fictional character’s appearance. In other words, a face claim is a person who looks as close to a fictional character as possible. In creative writing, a face claim helps other people understand what a character looks like, and it can help the author keep the character’s appearance consistent throughout the story.

So when might we, as daydreamers, want to choose a face claim for a character? And is there anything we need to be careful about when doing so?

A “searched for” face claim

If you don’t daydream in a very visual way, you might have trouble “seeing” the faces of your characters. Finding a real person that fits your idea of what the character might look like can help you visualise them more clearly. In this case, the character is already part of your daydream world, but choosing a face claim for them helps bring them to life.

If you want to use face claims in this way, I recommend looking for stock images. You’re looking for a photograph that’s going to become your character. You don’t need to know who the person in the photograph is, because that’s not who they’re going to be to you. It’s better to see the face only as your character and not wonder who the person is in reality.

An “inspirational” face claim

Sometimes, however, character and face claim arrive together. For example, you see a character in a TV show and decide to incorporate them into your daydream. You might take that character and drop them unedited into your daydream world. Or, you might take the aspects of them that inspire you, and create a character with those same traits. But if you keep their physical appearance largely the same, you’ve got a face claim.

The potential problem here is that you know who the real person is. It’s very easy to go from being inspired by a character to becoming obsessed with the actor that plays them. When a daydream character has a face claim from the beginning, you need to make a distinction between your character and the real person. It’s not that different from basing a character on someone you know in real life. You have to remember that no matter how little editing you’ve done, the character in your head and the real-life person are not the same.

An “accidental” face claim

This doesn’t happen often, but I can tell you from personal experience that when it does, it can seriously mess with your head. An accidental face claim happens when you’ve created a daydream character, you know exactly what they look like, and their physical appearance wasn’t based on anyone you know. And then one day, out of the blue, you suddenly come across someone who looks just like your character.

This happened to me a few months ago, with my daydream mentor. I’ve had this character for many years, and he’s always been 100% fictional. Randomly coming across someone who looks exactly like him was unsettling, to put it mildly. I immediately felt a profound emotional connection to this person I’d never met. And I didn’t know what to do with that.

It’s similar to basing a character on a real person without fully separating them, but in this case, I was doing it the other way around. It was hard not to project the very deep respect and affection I have for my daydream mentor onto this person I knew nothing about. Luckily he had a couple of short videos on YouTube. Hearing him speak helped me break the connection, because his voice is very different from my daydream mentor’s voice. But even so, this random person has taken up more time and space in my head than I’m comfortable with.

In summary

However your face claim has come about, the important thing to remember is that they are not your character. They’re just a convenient mental shorthand for what your character looks like. That’s it. Don’t start attaching significance to the real person. Don’t expect them to be like your character. And don’t try to make your character like them.

We take inspiration from many different sources in our daydreams. We might take an intriguing situation and weave it into our plot. Or we might see a photo of a house or street and decide to set a scene there. Giving one of your characters the physical appearance of someone you find attractive or inspiring isn’t any different. If you enjoy finding face claims for your characters and it doesn’t lead to you stalking someone random on social media, go for it. And if you happen to come across an accidental face claim when you’re least expecting it, smile at the coincidence, save a photo on your phone if you really have to, and then let it go.

[Photo by Ole Herman Larsen]