Casting the characters in your novel

Miriam Margoyles at the Newcastle Writers Festival

Miriam Margoyles at the Newcastle Writers Festival

Do you, I’m wondering? I’d love to find out what other writers do. I’ve written six novels now. Three are as yet unpublished and I’m starting the rounds next month for my sixth. Strangely though, I’ve only ever cast one of my novels with “real” actors as opposed to descriptions in my head and on the page. Why is that?

I’m not sure except to say that the only one I have cast, is set in contemporary times – 2004 to be exact and I don’t think that is a co-incidence. In Crossing Paths there are eight main characters and they all have approximately 20,000 words each, which is a lot of “air” time. My main character Jane Townsend is the beautiful but fragile Rose Byrne. I just couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role although she is in her thirties now whilst my Jane remains (in the inimical way of fictional characters) still in her twenties. John Cusack is Jeremy Braithwaite. No-one else will do and the same goes for the psychic medium and retired librarian Ruth Moon. She is none other than the indefatigable Miriam Margoyles who was part of Newcastle’s inaugural Writer’s Festival and did a brilliant and very entertaining Catherine de Bourgh for the discussion panel (see pic above) celebrating 200 wonderful years of Pride and Prejudice.

When you are picking actors to play your characters I think it is essential to aim high. Don’t bother with B grade, inexperienced actors. Grab the stars and that’s just what I did for my characters, particularly Mary Darling. Mary has just changed her surname and decided to run her family home on Vancouver Island as a B & B at the start of Crossing Paths. She is an excellent cook and the perfect person to run a B & B – she just doesn’t know it yet as she is lacking self confidence. Now I know Meryl Streep likes a challenge. Here’s one for her! Play a woman who is shy and seriously lacking in self confidence! Not sure I’ve ever seen her do that!

In Cornwall a gay, New Age writer is looking for love and I pretty much envisioned Rupert Penryn-Jones in the role of Jonathan Fairlight. His widowed mother and new bookcrosser Daphne is not one of the eight main characters but I’m sure Helen Mirren would have fun with the role, particularly with her new friend Miriam Margoyles aka Ruth. Have they ever acted together? I don’t think so.

Now the last three characters I didn’t actually cast but that was because suitable actors, I believe, are in abundance for those three roles. A pretty Greek actress who has rudimentary English for Eleni, a sophisticated French actor in his late fifties for Pascal, a French biographer. And lastly a good looking, enigmatic African American actor in his thirties for Russell, a Boston bookshop owner. Too easy!

As for my other novels – my first I don’t think it entered my head to chose actors. It was enough to actually be writing. My second unpublished novel was peopled mainly with my ancestors so it was kind of impossible to make casting decisions. As it was I used my family tree to create the extensive family histories of both the Kittos and the Wearnes and as a result I have messed up my knowledge of actual facts. I’m no longer an expert on our family on my father’s side! Fact and fiction has been irreparably combined in my mind.

For my third unpublished book I was dealing with two sisters from two different times . Both sets of sisters – one beautiful and one plain were inspired by a photo of two sisters from the thirties and with these real women in my head, there was no way my mind was going to make the leap to actors. And I think that’s as it should be.

Likewise my first published novel, Tomaree was also inspired by real people so apart from studying the physical appearance of a real US Serviceman and creating a character around some aspects of him and making my female character a redhead, no one came to mind!

For my last novel, the recently completed manuscript of The Grey Silk Purse no actors have put up their hands. I’m of the belief too that it is often a good thing (particularly when the past is concerned) to let the reader reconstruct the appearance of characters. I’ve had a lively discussion on the subject with Matthew Ward of Mary Celeste Press as to the pros and cons of putting a real person’s face on the cover of a book. If there is no face, the reader can choose a suitable actor if they want to. Or they can decide on a full description in their head (from a few details supplied by me). Either works but it is fun as a writer (when it does happen) to play along with a real life actor, give them exciting action and dialogue and watch a novel spring to life with their help!

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15 thoughts on “Casting the characters in your novel

  1. This is very interesting, Debbie. When writing Lies Told in Silence, I enjoyed the freedom of creating a character from scratch without any preconceived notions. Never thought of doing it the way you’re suggesting. Hmmm

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  2. My characters in my books always start out as a blank canvas, and their characteristics show up little by little and quite suddenly, they evolve… for example: Fry Nelson. Fry himself is a cross between two famous people: Harrison Ford – aged 40 – and Mel Gibson – aged 25. Now, mixed them and he’s a hottie. He’s got the rough, good-looking, archeologist kind good-looks of Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones and the goofy, on the edge of the your pants kinda excitement of Riggs from Lethal Weapon… yeah, he’s good, really good.

    Then, there’s Raven. A very hot, blond-haired, housewife to begin with, but a dangerous bounty hunter by the end of the game… eeer books… she and Fry have a rough past, but they love each other to the bitter end. He tried to kill her when the was an innocent house wife and he was married to her… but now, it’s different. Now they work together; and it’s just part of the job to work together and be together. She looks a bit like Nicole Kidman but not as innocent-looking. Think, Nicole Kidman, but she’s been to the gym, toughened up, gotten a few tattoos and had a really rough life… yep, that’s Raven.

    Angelina is and old woman; but doesn’t look like it. Actually, she’s ageless. She constantly looks like she’s around 65; but she’s heading towards 90… she runs, owns and picks out her employees herself of The Company… her head programmer keeps her looking and feeling and acting younger than what she really is by working his butt off – his name is Paul Andrews. The biggest secret is exactly how old Angelina Harrison is… nobody knows; not even Paul. If anyone was to know, The Company would collapse – or would it? Now, Angelina Harrison looks very much like Helen Mirren with long hair; but she always does it up for work; until she meets Gerald who owns Jades Recruitment Inc… now, he looks like… well it’s hard to pick who he looks like, because he’s not really a main character yet. 🙂

    Yeah, my main characters are either mixtures of people, or people who are famous, but I’ve made them have rough lives and they have a few things wrong with them physically and mentally…

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  3. Mozette, all your characters sound wonderful! They really are a mixture of real life and your imagination. Do you have a blog about your novel featuring your characters. Would love to read more, particularly the storyline.

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