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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Ignore this tip: Cast your novel with actors


"Fan casting" is an obsessive pastime of all authors, right?

Many authors.

Some authors.

Only me? No, I know you all do it. I've seen the blogs. And this blog post isn't exactly a writing tip, but rather something useful and slightly creepy that helps me with my characters.

Years ago I read a blog by an author listing which actors she would cast in her book series. That phenomenally successful series did in fact make it to the screen, and for all I know the phenomenally famous author had already signed the movie deal when she started publicly talking about actors. So she had a professional reason to think about these things.

For us merely mortal authors, casting famous faces is a fun fantasy. It can also be something more: a way to visualize and experience our characters to make them easier to get a handle on, easier to write.


I cast most of my characters while writing the first draft. However, I did not use actors and I'm going to lay out the reasons why using actors doesn't work for me. My reasoning may turn out to be irrelevant to you, and if so just click ahead to the next blog, or the last one if you missed it.

Do you base your characters on people you know? I'll one day write a whole blog post about that because I'd love to hear what you have to say about it, but suffice to say I don't do that. Real people can never perfectly fit the character I envision. And that goes for actors, too.

If you're casting actors purely as a fun fantasy, because you actually wish those actors could play those characters if and when your book becomes a movie, then more power to you! I cast my characters for the other reason—to put a face to the name and the personality I've created. If that's why you do it, I'm going to suggest something different.

Actors come with a whole heap of baggage. Firstly there's the real person behind the actor, which due to a thing called fame is inextricably intertwined with our "impression" of said actor. If the actor's real life persona (along with Hollywood gossip) doesn't match the character, even if their face does, it destroys the casting choice for me.

Secondly, actors come with the baggage of every role they've ever played. Which of those roles did you have in mind when you cast them for that character you wrote? For me, my knowledge of all the other roles the actor played destroys the illusion. There's just way too much information available that risks contradicting the character I wrote.

When I decided to cast my characters, I looked not at actors, but at models. I know next to nothing about the modeling world so these faces are blank slates, personality-wise. These faces have no accent, no personality, no real lives. Don't go thinking all models are gorgeous, by the way. Just as actors come in all stripes, so do models. Many of them are conventionally beautiful, but many actually have "interesting" rather than attractive features.

Search the internet for modeling agencies around the world, and you'll be presented with hundreds of unique faces that come with no baggage. This is quite overwhelming at first (*fanning self*). Stock photography is another source of images, but it can be harder to find multiple images of the same model in different settings. You will, however, a wider range of natural body types in stock images.

I picked a few options for each character, then looked at each model's work to see different iterations. A lot of modeling photography is frankly bizarre and not particularly inspiring for my purpose. But once I found a model with the right look who had a handful of suitable images, I was able to shortlist them. In some cases I instantly found the right person for the job. In others, I changed my mind a few times over the course of several months. Ultimately, if looking at that face inspires you to get to know your character better, then it's a winner.

My casting choices are on Pinterest. I included both younger and older versions of each of the main characters because the series covers several years. These faces are perfect in my mind. The rest of them, as "real" people—doesn't even matter. Most of them speak English with a foreign accent and have the wrong eye color (nothing Photoshop can't fix)—again, doesn't matter. I often write with print-outs above my computer and these blank faces come alive in my mind.

(By the way, professional models hardly ever smile. If you want smiling or casual photos of your model-characters, or perhaps even photos of them as children, stalk their social media.) (Did I say that out loud?)

How do you cast your characters? Does it help you create their personalities?

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