On “casting” while you write. Or not.

When I first started out in this biz, I heard a lot of writers talking about “casting” their books, and researching for visuals (typically actors, but not always) as part of their research prep.

And this struck me as strange (then again, I don’t create playlists for projects, either.  So I may be an outlier.)

Y’see, I don’t ‘cast’ my books before/while I’m writing them – or even after, honestly*.  It’s not because it wouldn’t be fun, or because I don’t think about what my characters look like… it’s just that I have to wait until they tell me what they look like.

Most of my characters ‘appear’ first as voices – their dialogue is the first introduction I get to them, and  only after I’ve been listening to them for a few pages do I  get an idea of what they look like, beyond nationality and gender.  Hell, sometimes I don’t even know their nationality until they’ve been nattering for a while.

So yeah, even after the fact, I’m hard-pressed to say “oh, so-and-so would be perfect to play X” because X is – in my mind – their own distinct person.

(I steal individual traits like a magpie, though, as many random strangers and close friends can attest.)

The current project, however, seems to want to do everything differently. This project wants visuals, even of places where I’ve been or things I know well enough to have in my head already.  And Story really wants to know what the characters look like, before we start writing them. I’m not sure why, but hey, what Story wants, generally, Story gets.

(this is generally a good rule of thumb, except when it’s not.  But that’s another post entirely)

So I’ve been going through my various fandoms, watching old movies with a different eye, and generally trawling the Internet for faces.  And in the process of finding I’ve discovered something interesting about myself: I am acutely uncomfortable browsing the internet looking specifically for a physical type, and even more uncomfortable narrowing down through an actor/actress/model’s portfolio for the very specific shot I need. It feels… stalkerish. Invasive. A little creepy.

Clearly, I would never have made it as a casting director.

Or maybe I would, because one  suggestion was rejected because the actor in question couldn’t IMO handle the role.  Physically ideal, but…no.

I suspect that if writers were able to make casting decisions, we’d see fewer “pretty” faces on the screen, and a lot more interesting ones…

Writers, what say ye?  Readers, do you “cast” while you read?  Do you ever find yourself disagreeing with the author’s description in your head?

(and, if you’ve read the Retrievers series, did the idea of a heroine whom nobody could remember long enough to describe drive you batshit?  Because it apparently drove my copyeditors. Up. The. Wall.  *heee*)




* there are three exceptions to this.  1) Sergei was always written with Mitch Pileggi in mind.  2) Danny Hendrickson is – and this was pointed out after the fact – based on Tim Hutton. 3) I may have given some serious through as to who would do the voice for Madame, should H’wood ever come knocking….


6 thoughts on “On “casting” while you write. Or not.”

  1. I usually use pics cut from magazines or catalogs (I -am- a very visual person), but I don’t do this until I’ve been working with this characters for a while. However, I never see these as exact matches. They’re starting points.

  2. Kerry – depending on my mood, Madame has always been either Rosalind Russell, or Nathan Lane. *g* Or maybe Pauley Perette. Yeah, she’d do nicely.

  3. I don’t generally cast characters from novels, Laura Anne, but on a roleplaying side, I cast player characters and non player characters with equal abandon. It provides a visual hook for both me and the players to do it that way.

  4. I don’t cast my books either, which is why I get incredibly frustrated when people ask me who I’d want to play Character X if ever the series was filmed. They just don’t look like anyone I’ve ever seen on the internet.

    I use pictures of landscapes or objects for visual cues in worldbuilding, but never people. I already know what they sound like, how they think, the way they’d react in a given situation. Their body and face is just the box the character comes in.

  5. Duncan Eagleson

    Since I’m also a visual artist, I tend to see the characters clearly in my mind as I write. In the early stages, I may make sketches, may even start scenes in the form of thumbnail comics pages. Very rarely do I see my characters as looking like an actor or model I’ve seen.

    OTOH, as a reader, I sometimes find I’ve been visualizing a character looking like a particular actor. This happens most often when an author’s depiction of a character is weak. That is, not in the sense that their physical description is sketchy or brief – a minimal physical description coupled with a strong character voice will produce a clear and unique visual image. But with characters who’ve been given weak or generic voices, if they’re more than a walk-on, my brain seems to call someone up from central casting. Of course, that also means that if I end up seeing too many movie stars walking around the pages, I probably won’t bother finishing the book.

    On the other other hand, since I’m something of a movie buff, so if someone asked me who should play one of my characters, I could probably come up with an answer quickly and easily – but I wouldn’t tend to go there on my own.

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