Stumble onto many authors’s Pinterest pages, and you’re likely as not to find a folder of “face casts” — photos of models or actors that resemble their characters. (I was no exception when I was working on my first novel, but they seem to have mysteriously vanished from my neglected Pinterest page. Hmm.)
I imagine that, to some, this sounds like a silly fantasy — authors and fans trying to cast a movie that hasn’t been written or optioned and is likely to never exist.
To others, it might sound like lazy characterization — the writer didn’t describe the character well enough on the page, so now they’re forced to resort to using photos of actors to describe their characters.
To the less uptight, it might simply sound like some good, writerly fun to distract from the hours of prose and crippling isolation. There’s definitely an aspect of that, I’m not going to lie.
It’s also an easy way to get other people excited about your writing.
Sure, you can share quotes and passages of your writing, maybe even create a dummy cover, but a picture is worth a thousand words. And novel aesthetics are a fun way to re-conceptualize your work in a different media.
For those who are in the writing trenches, it really is an amazing way to present the universe that is running through your brain to the rest of the world.
It sounds silly and superfluous, but a story is a big thing to keep to yourself for however long you’re working on it.
But as for casting specific actors to characters, there’s more to it than that.
Once I reached 20,000 words into this draft, I “rewarded” myself by letting myself choose author casts for my major characters so far. I had begun to get into their heads, and was beginning to see them as the people that they are becoming. They’re starting to take shape.
But even more than being able to give my characters faces, tying them to specific actors also allows me to hear their voices. It lets me visualize how they breathe, how they move, how they speak. I visualize the story kind of like a movie in my head, and it’s my job to transcribe what I’m seeing into readable prose.
It isn’t easy, and it isn’t perfect. But using familiar faces and voices helps.
The key is familiar — all of these actors are in shows that I enjoy watching, and watching them and listening to them helps me model my characters’s voices. It helps the dialogue sound more natural and varied between the different characters.
Some of these characters were harder to cast (especially the kids, until Hannah Moskowitz recommended that I go with Degrassi actors.), and some of them seem rather uninspired — Kim Raver, as an ex-Army trauma surgeon? That’s neverbeen done before. Never. And, obviously, having Anna Deavere Smith play a kick-ass lawyer would be a huge stretch.
I knew fairly early on that one of the characters, Dr. Rosch, was going to use a wheelchair, so I took that into account with her casting, as well. (I’m kind of surprised my brain didn’t lock on to Teal Sherer right away; I had to do a bit of googling. But I love The Guild and she’s a perfect fit for how I imagine the character looking.)
So it’s not just about finding somebody who looks the part (though, admittedly, that is the big part), but, rather, about finding somebody who can play every aspect of the role in the movie that plays out behind my eyes.
Stephen King might advocate wrapping a spike around your TV’s plug, sticking it into the wall, and seeing what blows, but I’ve found TV to be a pretty helpful tool.
Then again, I’m not Stephen King. Obviously. So, take my advice for what it’s worth.
But, even if you consider the practice to be pointless procrastination, what’s the harm in that? It’s still kind of productive, which is better than not being productive at all.
At least, I hope so.