So much of a great novel is defined by its characters. What they look like, what kind of history they have, how they act and think and feel. As a writer, it’s our job to do more than just create a fictional person who is entertaining enough to keep readers flipping pages – we have to make that person come to life.
For me, this includes a lot of things: keeping a spreadsheet of basic info, taking notes on important features or characteristics about them, exploring how they speak or mannerisms they have…and actually casting my characters.
When I’m writing a new person into my novel, I usually have a pretty good idea in my head of what they look like, but I can’t draw or sketch to save my life. What I can do, though, is Google. So I put on my casting director hat (which isn’t a literal hat, but if it were it would probably be a beanie) and start searching for a person who embodies the same look and attitude as my character.
I’ll usually pick out some general features to find a list of options – “blonde actresses under 30”, “underrated latino actors”, “unknown male actors over 50”, etc. Why actors, you wonder? While you can find faces of all kinds (celebrity or otherwise) online, actors will usually have some more interesting pictures available, ranging from classic headshots to dramatic stills from films or series, sometimes in scenes that match up pretty perfectly with the character I’m casting them for!
One important note on this selection process: I always try to avoid actors I know well from movies, series, or even interviews. This is because I normally already imagine them in this other role, and that could have a heavy influence on how I end up writing my own character.
So, although looking them up and discovering their tone of voice and way of speaking can sometimes be helpful, I generally avoid it and use their pictures only. Then I just leave the rest up to my imagination!
What do you do to help bring your fictional characters to life?