Be the Casting Director for Your Characters

I had a fun idea this week on how to bring characters to life in my writing. I decided to play casting director, and I started casting specific actors in the roles of my characters. I know this isn’t an original idea, but it’s not a suggestion I’ve run across yet, so it’s new to me!

In the past, I’ve seen recommendations for how to envision characters in a number of ways. One of the more common suggestions is to cut out photographs of people in magazines or save photos of people online and use those photos for inspiration.

I like the photo approach, but there are a couple of things I like better about casting actors: I’ve seen them move, and I know how they behave (at least when “in character.”) It is much easier to place them into a scene and imagine how the action will unfold. Mix in a back story and motivation based in the story world, and you have a customized character ready to contribute to the mayhem.

Friends and family are fair game too, of course. But I think secrecy is key on that one. The characters you put into your novel will undoubtedly deviate from the behavior of the people you know or have seen on film. Plus, they may have to do unsavory things in the context of the story. If you cast your best friend as a murderer (and he or she knows about it), you could make trouble for yourself.

Books and films are quick to point out that “any resemblance between the characters in this production and real persons living or dead is purely coincidental,” but you know that the disclaimer is probably not entirely true. Real individuals probably inspired the book or screenplay author while the author developed the characters, even if the influence was subconscious. On the other hand, just by putting a person into your fictional story world, you are creating a fictional character.

One of the advantages of choosing actors for inspiration, particularly famous ones, is the accessibility of information about the characters they play on the Internet. You can use the The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to look up virtually any movie or TV show. You can usually find photos of the actors, should you want to save them aside for your character sketches. NetFlix has a lot of information on shows and actors as well.

I’m terrible at remembering actor names, so the IMDB and NetFlix are great starting points. Even if these resources don’t have much information on the actor I seek, I can use them to find out the actor’s real name and continue my search online.

Here’s one more benefit of casting actors in your book: when your book finally gets made into a movie, you’ll already have suggestions on who should play which role. I’m kidding, of course. From what I’ve read, authors are barely tolerated by the movie industry, and the screenplay will most likely be written by someone else who changes the story significantly anyway.

Even so, just dreaming of selling the movie rights to your book is a pleasant pastime.


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