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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do You "Cast" Your Characters?

When I'm getting ready to inhabit a new manuscript with a cast of characters, there is one thing I have to do before I can go very far with determining who my hero and heroine are. I usually only have a few basic facts about them sorted out before I have to be able to see them.

So I hit the internet. I scour through images of actors and actresses, models, musicians . . . sometimes even just stock photos of random people, until I find the one that is calling to me.

Once I have an image of this character in my head, I'm better able to figure out who they are, why they are that way, what makes them tick.

Take my hero from the manuscript I have out on submission right now. I knew his name--Quin. I knew he was going to do some really underhanded things in order to get what he needed, but I wasn't sure why that would be. So I started looking for pictures of Quin, so that I could figure out his back story. A clean-cut guy wouldn't do. He needed to be scruffy and have some sort of a naughty gleam in his eye.

Here's what I found. Keep your vials of hartshorn handy, ladies. Go on. Click over. I'll still be here when you get back.

Now, I have never watched an episode of Lost or anything else he's been in, so I didn't already have a character formed to fit this image. I was able to take what I saw in those dimples beneath the scruffy jawline, and figure out what his life had been up to that point.

That isn't always the case, though. For the trilogy I'm currently working on, I had three heroes to cast. I'd gotten far enough into my planning that I knew a little bit about each of them, how they would interact with their heroines and the like. But I needed to go deeper. I needed to learn more about them. So again, I headed to the internet.

The three actors I chose to fill these roles are three I'm very familiar with. In the case of the first one, some of his personality (or at least his acting personality) melded with the personality of the character I've created. With the other two, very little of what they show onscreen is what you'll see in their parts in my manuscripts.

It was a complete coincidence that they have all played characters in the same show. I only realized that a few weeks later.

#1: What a sweetie. Too bad my vet doesn't look like that.

#2: McSteamy? Yes please.

#3: And a little McDreamy for good measure.

I have to do the same thing with my heroines, to really get a good feel for who they are. I don't just choose actors for these visual depictions of my characters.

Do you need to have a photo of your characters in order to sketch them out in your mind? Or do you keep one handy as you write, as a reminder of their physical characteristics?


  1. Catherine, great post, although some of the links didn't work for me girl. I do "cast" my characters. I get photo's of the characters, thier houses, any "special items" like necklaces or charms that are used in the story so that I can get a visual feel for them. It helps to dig deeper into my characters depths. Which if anyone follows my blogs at all or know me, is my weakness. I have a difficult time unearthing "who" my characters are. Plots are much easier for me to write. So I struggle with this but this is one of the things I do that help me work on my weakness. I think knowing what you're good at and what you need to work on is half the battle. If you can figure out your weaknesses you're already ahead of the game. Great ideas, Catherine, and as usual you're right on the money.

  2. I generally don't cast my characters, but I always have to have the correct name. LOL If I start a story and things aren't going right, it usually gets fixed if I change their name. Bizarre.

  3. I work more from the inside out, but it helps to have a photo when I'm layering in descriptions. Usually about part way through I'm ready to choose a photo.

    I choose models from iStock, because I'm usually familiar with actors and it throws me off. However, I was grocery shopping one day when I was writing "The Ruination of a Rake" and saw this actor I didn't know on the cover of People. I did a double-take. I couldn't believe it. My hero, Drew, was grinning back at me, dimples and all.

    The link didn't work for me, but I knew you meant Sawyer when you mentioned Lost. Having read your wip, I couldn't agree more that he fits Quin to a T.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, everyone. I *think* I've got the links fixed now.

    Melissa, having a visual of things really helps so much with the description for me, too. I have photos of houses, rooms, furniture, jewelry, flowers, trees--you name it--so that I can really get a feel for what I'm trying to describe. I find it helps immensely.

    Donna, there's nothing worse than having a character try to answer to the wrong name. LOL. I tend to change the names several times in the planning stage as I'm getting to know them. Once I start writing, I usually have it down. But at least you know to try a name change when something feels off!

    Samantha, I usually choose more nameless/faceless photos for my characters than otherwise. I'm not sure how it has worked out in the last few MSs that I've written that my heroes are all easily identifiable. My heroines are from stock photo sites and the like this time around. That makes me smile that you recognized Sawyer as Quin, even without the help of the link! I don't know him as anything else, LOL, since I haven't seen Lost.

  5. I have the pictures in my head, but I've never gone looking for them on the internet. I think I'd make myself crazy if I couldn't fine the right person. But it would be fun to look, anyway. :)

  6. Great post!

    For me, sometimes the part which is the most fun when I write, is when I can see the character's physical traits in my own mind. And, then have the reader imagine what the character may look like on their own. When people read my writing, they find their own hero or heroine's form to build on.

    When it's a sex scene, well then of course, the logistics have to take control. Sex takes it onto another plateau, which sometimes even a picture I could find on the web, could never equal to my own vigorous digging on the keyboard. But, when it's just getting inside of a character's head, I go with instinct. If it's a bad girl/guy, then the naughty side rolls forth. Then again, a hero or heroine takes a bit more construction.

    Besides, if every hero was Patrick Dempsey in our writings, then he'd be a very busy muse. Speaking of which, muses can come in the most unexpected forms. He might not be an Adonis that we who write always have in mind when sitting before the paper or screen. But, then again, an average Joe can be the hero some women want to sweep them off their feet.

    Casting is such a grand affair..!!!