I can’t visualise very well. When I close my eyes and try to picture someone I know well they come out looking a bit like this. I focus on a few key characteristics, and roughly construct a face based on the details. It’s quite embarrassing at times, because it means all people look a bit alike to me until I find something that makes that face unique.
When you bear this in mind, it seems a little bit strange that I can’t write a multi-dimensional character until I ‘cast’ someone as them. They need a face to make them real in my mind. Usually I pick an actor, or someone I know in real life, but occasionally they end up being a face I’ve plucked out of a magazine because they look right. Once that person has a face, their whole personality can start to take shape. It might be nothing like that of the person they’re based on, but that doesn’t matter. All people look alike to me, after all.
I do this when I read as well. As I go through a book I assign the major roles to people to help me make them real in my mind. I hear their voices, notice their mannerisms, smell their scents. It can make seeing a film adaptation of a book I know and love horribly confusing. And this makes me wonder how many other people do this.
JK Rowling once said that she wanted Alan Rickman for the role of Snape when the Harry Potter films were first being put into production. The casting director wanted Tim Roth. Ultimately, Roth wasn’t available and Rowling got her Snape of choice, but this makes me wonder how many other characters are portrayed in real life by actors who were not what their creators had in mind. To say nothing of how the films would have been different with Tim Roth as Severus Snape. But that’s a debate for another day.
For my longer piece of fantasy fiction, I’ve cast my three central characters in my head. I know exactly what they look like, exactly who they are, and exactly who I would want to play them in a very unrealistic, slightly time-bending film. But what amazes me is that although they are so clearly formed in my head, readers might look at them and cast someone completely different. And what amazes me even more is that I don’t mind.
I may have mentioned before that I like to be in control. It seems alien to me to hand something to someone else and let them do what they will with it when they might do it wrong. Yet with my characters it doesn’t really bother me. So what if you cast someone else as my leading lady? As real as she seems in my head, that’s the only place that she is real to me. In your head she might be real to you, and you bring your own experience to the words in front of you to let you shape the character as you see fit. And that’s okay. That’s how it should be.
Do you cast novels as you read them? How do you feel when someone makes a film and casts the wrong actors? Does it bother you? Let me know in the comments section below.