Creating new characters and describing them in detail so the reader has a quick and easy understanding of what they look and sound like is tough. Much easier? Describing them as looking or sounding like a famous celebrity! If the reader knows the celebrity (and that might be a big if, depending on target audience and the amount of time that passed since the work was published), it allows for a quick reference and something the reader can picture quickly. If not, then the reader is cheated out of a description in what might seem like lazy shorthand.
Common in fanfiction by less ambitious authors. Why bother wasting words on descriptions when you can just say your heroine looks just like Cameron Diaz or Audrey Hepburn? Bonus points for combining this with Description in the Mirror: "Mary Sue glanced up from brushing her teeth and was struck, not for the first time, by how much she looked like a young Steve Buscemi..."
Also frequently used in-universe specifically for the purpose of "dating" a work, where one character (or the first-person narrator) describes another using intentionally outdated (contemporary) references in line with the date and location of the setting in order to build atmosphere.
Note: This is a narration in literature trope. Please don't add any examples that exclusively involve dialogue or internal monologue. This refers only to when the narration of the story itself describes characters' appearance by making a celebrity comparison, not when characters do.
Contrast with plain ol' Celebrity Resemblance. Compare Comic-Book Fantasy Casting for drawn examples. See Hypothetical Casting for instances where the author pictures a certain actor in a role but only mentions it through Word of God.
- Ebony opens the notoriously bad Harry Potter fanfiction My Immortal by describing herself as looking like Amy Lee from Evanescence (the fanfic is Titled After one of the band's songs), and states that anyone who doesn't know who she is should GTFO. Other characters (despite them being featured in a hit movie and having their actors be celebrities) also are described as resembling celebrities, such as Vampire Potter and Joel Madden, or Draco Malfoy and Gerard Way.
- In Moon Daughter, the narrator describes Hades as looking "kind of like Johnny Depp super pale, but he had black hair in a ponytail and a little eyeliner but not too much cause he isn't gay."
- Overlaps with Celebrity Paradox in the Harry Potter fanfiction Happy Endings, where Severus Snape has been given a makeover by a Parody Sue and thinks he now looks like a young Alan Rickman.
- Used in-universe in Meet the Robinsons, where Wilbur tells Lewis that his father - away on a trip at the time - looks like Tom Selleck (a picture of Selleck is even used when Lewis tries to figure out the Robinsons' family tree). Actually, Wilbur does this to throw Lewis off, as his father, who's an older Lewis, is voiced by Selleck in a Casting Gag but looks nothing like Selleck.
- Left Behind describes its villain, Nicolae Carpathia, as looking like a young Robert Redford. This is meant to give an idea of the charm he evokes. In one book, the female lead was established as having a crush on Robert Redford, and the male lead was described as looking a bit like him "if he was a rummy and a drunk." This is clarified within the same paragraph as like "two people had constructed a model human from identical parts, but one had followed the instructions and the other had just bashed it together."
- Another character's description, in its entirety, is that "he had a Henry Fonda-ish quality to him".
- In X-Men novels, Storm is now described as resembling Halle Berry.
- In the Sweet Valley High books, Mr. Collins was described as looking like Robert Redford. In the new, updated editions he's just described as looking like "a movie star".
- Parodied in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish:
If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn't exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.
- Major Major Major Major in Catch-22 is described as looking so much like Henry Fonda that some of the other characters even start to suspect that he is Henry Fonda. In an interview, Joseph Heller said that, in a movie version, he would want Major to be played by either "Henry Fonda or by somebody who looks nothing like Henry Fonda." (In the 1970 film adaptation, he was played by Bob Newhart).
- How Not To Write A Novel marks this as a lazy and ineffective storytelling device, giving two reasons why it doesn't work: First, if you just say your character looks like someone and drop the mic, then pre-existing impressions of that someone on the audience will, subconsciously or consciously, affect their perception of your character. Second, if you describe them relative to a celebrity (a younger George Clooney, a white Jet Li, a male Scarlett Johansson, etc.), then the reader will be doing the math when they should just be thinking of your character.
- John Dies at the End has a lot of fun with this. For example, there's a cop the narrator says reminds him of Morgan Freeman, despite looking nothing like him. He then refers to him as Morgan Freeman for the rest of the novel. It then subverts this by having a character named Jennifer Lopez who looks nothing like the singer. The narrator has to actually make the distinction for the reader, saying it's not the Jennifer Lopez, just a girl with the same name.
- It's even clarified that the Narrator doesn't recall the name of the black actor that the cop actually looks like, he just uses Morgan Freeman as a stand-in for that actors name.
- Done in an unusual way in Mike Nelson's Death Rat!, where antagonist Gus Bromstad is described as having "trim, Roger Whittaker-like good looks," but those familiar with Roger Whittaker know that's not really the most glamorous of descriptions. The protagonist also considers himself to look like "a sloppy caricature of Gorbachev without the wine stain," which is far less flattering (and done as a humorous comment, since there's a good chance the reader was already picturing him as looking like that, based on the descriptions of him to that point).
- James Bond
- In Ian Fleming's novels Casino Royale and Moonraker, 007 is described as looking like Hoagy Carmichael.
- Hugo Drax's right-hand man Willy "The Persuader" Krebbs in Moonraker is described as looking like young Peter Lorre. Since the actor himself had been typecast as slimy villains, this helps to describe the character's role in the story.
- Lavender Peacock, the Girl of the Week in Licence Renewed, is described to be reminiscent of actress Lauren Bacall as a young woman.
- "Sinful" Cindy Chalmer in Role of Honour reminds Bond of a much younger Ella Fitzgerald, a jazz singer.
- Conversed in Death Is Forever, where a character complains to Bond that an author whose book he is reading constantly uses it to describe people.
- Mary Goodnight in Carte Blanche has a strong resemblance to the actress Kate Winslet, which has inspired several of her admirers to send her gifts inspired by the 1997 film Titanic, in which Winslet had a starring role.
- In Trainspotting (the book, not the film), Mark Renton is said to resemble Alex McLeish, while Sick Boy and Tommy are said to look like Steven Seagal and Harrison Ford respectively. Whilst the idea of either of the latter two playing Scottish heroin addicts is nothing if not an arresting mental picture, the film adaptation was somewhat less ambitious in its casting ambitions.
- Eccentric Millionaire Hubertus Bigend, the titular character of William Gibson's Bigend Books, is described as looking "like Tom Cruise on a diet of virgins' blood and truffled chocolates".
- In Arsenic and Old Lace, Jonathan Brewster's uncanny resemblance to Boris Karloff is frequently commented on by the other characters, as well as being mentioned in the script when he first enters. It's Jonathan's Berserk Button, and in the original production was also an Actor Allusion.
- The novelization of Resident Evil Code: Veronica has Claire Redfield note that Steve Burnside greatly resembles Leonardo DiCaprio. This was meant as an affectionate Stealth Insult to the franchise, as this was such a common complaint about the game that the developers actually changed Steve's appearance before re-releasing it on PS2. Of course, this was back in Leo's cutsey-boy early years, but... ouch.
- The first volume of Labyrinths of Echo establishes that Juffin Hally looks like an aging Rutger Hauer; Shurf Lonli-Lokli, like a young Charlie Watts; and Melamori Blimm, like Diana Rigg in her Bond Girl days. Also, Kofa Yokh's appearance is compared to Georges Simenon' Inspector Maigret. This becomes a plot point late in the second volume, where Max almost lets himself be convinced that all of them were just figments of his imagination, based on his favorite movies—a possible instance of the author admitting to lazy writing, as this technique is never used again throughout rest of the series.
- Spoofed in Robert Rankin's Armageddon: The Musical series: The main character resembles Harrison Ford to such an extent that people ask him for his autograph and think he's being a jerk when he signs his own name. One of the books has a subplot where a group of minor characters gain Medium Awareness and try to get the narrator to describe them as resembling various Hollywood stars;note the Butt-Monkey wants to be played by Tom Cruise but ends up as Danny DeVito instead. There's a full cast list at the end.note
- Scarlett Johansson actually sued a French author for doing this with her in one of his books. And she managed to win, too. Apparently, just baldly stating that "character X looks like real-life person Y" is okay, but having "having character X be confused with real-life person Y and be treated as if he or she is Y" is considered over the line. However, many of her claims were rejected and she was awarded 2500 euros, not the 50000 euros she wanted. As a result of the case, the book continues to be published with only minor alterations.
- In The Cuckoo's Calling, protagonist Cormoran Strike is described as looking like "a young Beethoven who had taken to boxing." In the second book his client Leonora Quine is compared to a long-haired Rose West by the British Newspapers.
- The Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons Of Liberty novelisation describes Raiden as looking 'like a young David Bowie'.
- The series Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan repeatedly compares the title character to Kurt Cobain.
- An In-Universe example in X-Wing: Rogue Squadron where Imperial Intelligence operative Kirtan Loor is said to look like a young Grand Moff Tarkin, a resemblance which he deliberately tries to emphasize. Sir Peter Cushing presumably doesn't exist in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
- Parodied by a Dave Barry column in which he writes a fake suspense novel, clearly hoping for a film adaptation. "Carter Crater strode into the office. He looked like Tom Cruise, or, if he's available, Al Pacino."
- Even Terry Pratchett got in on this once, in the short story "Turntables Of The Night". The narrator describes someone they met in a disco as looking a bit like John Travolta in the Seventies... if you'd buried him for about three months. Not coincidentally, the individual in question also TALKS IN CAPITALS.
- Many MUSHes will allow players to set actors for their characters (often referred to as PBs, for "played by").