Thursday, January 24, 2008

Casting Call

We've probably blogged about this before -—I know we have —-but I've been thinking about this lately. How many of us "cast" the characters in our books? By that I mean some writers choose celebrities, or people they know, who they can visualize as they write their stories.

For KNIGHT'S CURSE, I first had an image of Katie Holmes as my heroine Chalice, until I found out how tall she is. Uh, no, not going to work. Chalice is a petite 5'2", and Katie is a statuesque 5'9". She always looked shorter to me than that in the movies. Anyway, it was her dark, child-like features that could turn sexy in a heartbeat that made her so ideal for my heroine. So I picked someone else just as perfect, though she's not an actress. She's the lead singer in the band Evanescence and her name is Amy Lee. In fact, she's even more perfect than Katie. That's who I see as I write Chalice's character.

My villain never resembled anyone I'd seen before. Still, I could picture him perfectly: older man, sophisticated, pale and silver-haired, tall and virile for his age, his visage bland and the man himself as cruel as they come. He was totally made up in my mind, but I could draw him if I had to. Like describe him to a police artist. Then one of my critique partners said that when she reads about him, she sees a demented David Niven. Aha! Perfect! Now I see a demented David Niven, too.

I have a secondary character that is villainous in her own right. She's a rather large gal whose name is Zeppelin, but everyone calls her Zee. I sort of picture her as the character Edna Turnblad in the movie Hairspray who's played by John Travolta, only with a big beehive hairdo. Ha!

I haven't seen anyone I recognize as my hero, Aydin. He has some unique features, which could be why. He's Turkish with Asian eyes that are the color of frozen jade. If you know of someone who looks like that, please let me know and direct me to his picture. 8^)

It's funny where we draw our inspiration. So the question is, who are in the cast of characters for your book? Celebrity or family relative? The neighbor down the street or your best friend's brother? That nasty clerk at the hardware store or the snooty teller at the bank? Or just totally made of from the clay of your own imagination?


Genene said...

Interesting question, Karen!

I've found a lot of intriguing faces in magazine ads -- not celebrities though. Some of them may resemble a character I already have an image of in my mind. Other photos may trigger an urge to make up a life for them.

Even my book with a rock star hero isn't patterned after a live person. There are pieces of rock stars I had crushes on as a teenager, and I picked up ideas about their lives from the books I read. However, the "reality" quickly morphed into fiction as I asked "what if" and changed their lives and perhaps their eye color or the shape of their nose or whatever to fit my story.

I guess it's the same with friends and relatives. One incident or characteristic may trigger the thought, "that would be great in a book." But it soon becomes fiction.

There are also pieces of myself in every book. I like my hair color, so I have to be careful not to give every heroine strawberry blonde hair. Or I don't like my tendency not to stand up for myself, so I write a heroine who is very good at doing that.

Does that make any sense? "Real" life and real people may trigger the inspiration for my stories, but then I spin the tale into how I think the person should act or how I want the incident to turn out.

How's that for a wishy-washy comment? LOL!

Alice Sharpe said...

This is a fun blog and I don't think your answer was wishy-washy, Genene.

I think most my characters come out of that clay in my brain, though sometimes I'll tell an art director to "think young Harrison Ford," etc...

I think it's a great idea to have a physical example of your character the way you do, Karen. It could help with gestures and mannerisms and all the rest. I think I'll start casting my books from real pictures instead of gray matter!

Karen Duvall said...

Genene, that makes perfect sense. 8^) And Alice, gray matter is the soil from which your garden of characters grow, lol!

My friend Lindy created this whole montage of faces cut from magazines, each one attributed with a character's name from her book. She did this with everyone, from the main character to the taxi driver (or whatever prop he'd be; I don't know that there was an actual taxi driver in her story). She keeps it posted by her computer and these people "hang out" with her as she writes. I think it's a great idea.

Alice Sharpe said...

I like your friend's idea, too, although I have to admit the people in my head seem pretty damn real most of the time. Besides, I don't have that many magazines. I guess I could get some at the free counter at the library, though...

Lisa Pulliam said...

I don't have the imagination to create a person. When I first started writing, that's what I did. For some reason I guess I thought it wasn't "allowed" to base characters off of someone. Weird, I know. Once I threw that notion out, I began basing characters off of real people. I can't imagine features of people without pictures, let alone create the look of someone. I often go as far as to find various pictures of the same person so I can capture various moods. And it's a great excuse to keep pictures of gorgeous men ;)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

*sigh* I love to look at pictures of Harrison Ford - young or old.

One of my old CPs used to do this for all her books - still does, I believe. I've only done it once, with the wip I'm working on now (or, the wip I've taken a break on to do my revisions. LOL) Generally, my main characters are very real and alive in my head and I try not to over describe them too much so that they become just as alive in the reader's head. However, this time I have seven different men I need to introduce (six are secondary characters) and I needed a way to visualize their differences quickly. I have a file with pictures and attributes about each one for quick reference when I'm writing and one pops into the scene.

Danita Cahill said...

It's been a long time since we touched on this subject, Karen, so good idea.

I have never pictured a character as an actor, although my hero in this current book I first described as being built as a young Tom Hanks with broader shoulders. But that's where the similarily ends.

I get a really clear picture in my mind of how they look, describe them when they first come on stage, and then let readers fill in the blanks for most of the rest of the book, except maybe a mention here and there about exceptional features: the brilliant blue of her eyes or the way his chin dimple turns to a cleft when he's worried -- you know, that sort of stuff.

Sometimes I come across someone in a magazine who looks similar to one of my characters. I dutifully tear it out and pin it to my cork board or stick it in an index file, but I really don't pay much attention to the image from that point on.

I guess my characters become so real to me, I can picture them at a moment's notice, as I can picture an old friend or a family member.

Danita Cahill said...

Lisa, I used to feel like that too -- that casting after a real person wasn't allowed. I used to keep a framed 8 X 10 of Tom Sellek over my washing machine. It had nothing whatsoever to do with writing, but it sure made doing the laundry more pleasant. Ha!

I agree on the Harrison Ford sigh, Eli. There's something so appealing about his rugged face,and that chin scar. Very masculine.

Paty Jager said...

I have and still do at times hang up photos of my heroes and heroines if I come across a picture that looks like a character I'm writing about or thinking about.

Some of my characters have been built from actors and people I know, but eventually in my head they end up being the character in the story.

Great blog!