Posts Tagged casting characters

Cast of Characters

David MitchellSee the gentleman to the right?  His name is David Mitchell.  He’s a British actor and comedian who I’ve become familiar with due to his participation in that most British of television phenomenons, the prime time panel show.  Particularly through his involvement as a regulars on QI and a team captain on Would I Lie to you.  What can I say, I’m a fan of British comedy, and there’s a lot of these shows that’ll never get broadcast in the US for one reason or another hiding on Youtube.

So why do I have a picture of David Mitchell on my blog about writing, and why am I babbling about BBC panel shows?  Well, the latter is just because I’m a fan of them and this is my blog after all.  The first question is more to the point of this post.  I have a picture of David Mitchell because I realized he’s a character in Nickajack, the novel I’m currently outlining.  Oh, not the actual David Mitchell.  That would just be silly.  But rather the persona that he adopts during the panel shows, the version of himself that he puts out there for the UK and the world to see.  His mannerisms, his defensiveness, his delivery, his occasional dismissiveness.  Little bits and pieces of that are going to end up floating around the brain of an 1870s mechanical construct named, simply, No. 3.

Casting my characters is a trick that I picked up when working on a spec television pilot.  It’s probably a natural extension of writing for the screen, but is less obvious in writing for the page.  Casting characters allowed me to see them in more depth.  Allowed me to impart mannerisms better than just having the characters as raw constructs in my head.  Since I’ve started using this trick, I’ve seen and heard of other writers doing the same, often to very positive effect in the writing process.

And it’s fantastically cheap and easy to do.  As a writer for the page, rather than for the screen, there’s no worry about the budget for actors, no need to worry about availability and scheduling, no need to worry about an actor turning down a role because they simply feel it’s crap.  Or that they don’t want to do that kind of story.  Or that they’re dead.  Or that you’re casting the 30-year old version of a now 78-year old actor (I’ve done this).  It’s the kind of casting call that any Hollywood studio would kill to do.

You can also conduct horrible experiments, chopping stars up and gluing the pieces back together.  Something that would get you quite properly arrested in real life, but will create that much more dynamism in a character.  Take the demeanor of one actor, the delivery of another, the cadence of a third, mix them up, add a little of your own flavor, and it’ll come out on the far end unrecognizable as being inspired by a single real-world source.

This is not without peril.  When writing the pilot, I initially miscast the main character in my head.  And just as a poorly cast lead can drag down a movie, this bit of “miscasting” seriously dragged down the narrative of the story.  It took backing out of the written draft, recasting the character entirely, and starting nearly from scratch before he became an actual character and not just lines of dialogue floating around the pages.  It didn’t matter that the newly “cast” actor would never work television, he had the right presence to inform and build the character.

So play around with your characters.  Think about who you want them to be.  This can be especially helpful for a character who just won’t quite come together.  Think of who you imagine playing them, then write around that idea.  It’s not going to work for every character in every story, but it has gotten me out of several jams with characters who I otherwise wasn’t quite feeling.

David Mitchell photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  Attribution: Pinkboy at en.wikipedia

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