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Five Reasons To Cast Your Novel

Music of the Rain by LoikaAt the heart of every great novel are great characters. Love them or hate them, their escapades propel the narrative forward. Readers empathise with them, cheer them on and cry with them. Writers need to know how to make their characters as real as possible. Therefore, in your own writing it’s essential that you are able to know how your characters will act in any given circumstance.

There are many ways that writers do this. Some can conjure characters from thin air, are able to construct the nuances of a fictional person’s life bit by bit, built on research and experience. Some base their characters solely on people they know. And some cast actors and actresses in the roles as if the book was a film. There are as many different methods as there are fictional characters. Each is as valid as the next, dependent on what the writer feels most useful for the project at hand.

But for the sake of this article, let’s consider the last option – of casting your novel with actors and actresses – and why it might be a good idea to break out the imaginary casting couch when you start your next novel.

1. Character Description

Hunger Games PosterNovels are full of little facts. Some are key to the plot, such as the colour of Harry Potter’s eyes. Some are simply to make the characters and the world in which they inhabit seem solid in the reader’s head. But keeping track of all those facts, ensuring there is continuity throughout your narrative, can be a challenge. Even pros like George R R Martin have swapped people’s eye colour, or changed characters gender.

Consider then, casting actors and actresses in imaginary roles. Suddenly you are guaranteed a level of continuity. Obviously you don’t want to give the game away. “She looked like Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games movies” is a pretty poor description, but you can talk about the brown hair, the off-centre plait and if you’ve done it well, no-one will be any the wiser that your character’s look is based on Jennifer Lawrence. And best of all, if you are writing a passage where you refer to your character’s hair colour, you don’t need to go back through tens of thousands of words to see if you’ve made mention of it before. Instead, it’s as simple as Googling the actor or actress in question.

2. Character Mannerisms

Hugh Grant by Julien RathPeople are full of quirks and little tics, unique to them. It might be the way they play with their hair, or the way they look at someone when they are annoyed. Bringing these to your novel can help give your characters depth. But doing so in a way that doesn’t feel contrived can sometimes be tricky.

Just as Hugh Grant’s foppishness comes naturally to his performances, so a character you cast Hugh Grant as will naturally pick it up as well. You’ll find yourself adding tics you were never consciously aware of before. You may not even notice yourself doing it, instead just translating an actor’s performance to the page to create a memorable scene.

3. Speech

Christopher Walken by Daniele BarracoSome of the greatest scenes in novels consist of little more than two people talking. Great dialogue can not only help move the plot along but reveal character as well. Think about all these legendary scenes in movies you’ve seen and how great actors and actresses have delivered Oscar winning performances. Now think how you could steal all those actors and actresses and put them in your novel.

How would Christopher Walken deliver that key scene in your novel? How would Samuel L Jackson embellish the script and make the dialogue his own? Movie producers have to pay millions of dollars for the privilege but in casting these actors and actresses as characters in your novel, you have unlimited budget.

As a result, it can help bring a dialogue intensive scene to life, energising it with a performance that feels not only authentic to the character, but consistent with the entirety of the novel. You’re not going to win any Oscars, but hey, you might just write a scene that delivers all the emotional impact you were hoping for.

4. Making Editing Easier

You’ve written your novel, left it to sit for a time and are now busy editing it. And in doing so you find it’s missing a scene, or a scene needs rewriting. Getting back into your character’s head can be hard, especially after such a long time. It can even be harder if you can’t remember what they look like or how they talk. But if you’ve cast your character you’ll find it so much easier to get back into character. Adding detail or dialogue that’s in keeping with the rest of the novel will be a lot easier.

5. Inspiration

Charlize TheronUnlike real-life you don’t only have to pick your cast from the modern day. Instead you can delve into the history of television and cinema to find the actors and actresses you want to cast. There’s unlikely to ever be a movie where a thirty year old Harrison Ford acts with Charlize Theron (although with the advancement in digital actors it shouldn’t totally be ruled out) but there’s nothing stopping you casting them together.

And in doing so, it can be an inspiration for ways to take your story in directions that you’d previous not thought about: pair-ups that are not currently possible, or actors and actresses in roles their time precluded. This can be a great jumping off point for new ideas that will strengthen your novel.

You’ve got an unlimited casting budget, you can put your first choice actor into every role, and they won’t decline or have a scheduling conflict. So, with that in mind, why wouldn’t you want to cast your next novel?



  1. Avatar G R Matthews says:

    I like this idea, and do something similar unconsciously. I will be stealing this!

  2. Avatar AshKB says:

    I’m glad to see this article pop up – glad I’m not the only one who does this! I find having actual faces to go with my characters helps inspire me when I’m low, and also solidifies certain characteristics a lot more. And unlike an actual movie, I don’t have to worry about actual acting or accents – as long as the expressions are right, I’m good to go.

  3. […] this really great article over on Fantasy Faction about using people to base your characters off of here. And I couldn’t agree anymore. However for me I wouldn’t exactly advocate using actors […]

  4. Avatar Nicole says:

    I definitely do this with my casts. Not every single character, but a several usually jump out at me with real-world inspirations. It’s fun!

  5. Avatar Ros Jackson says:

    I do this all the time. Sometimes I use Casting Collective because it lets you filter by height, age, ethnicity, hair colour, and so on. Other times I’ll just use sketches. Whichever way I do it, it’s always much easier to write a character with a picture to work from.

  6. Avatar 1 L Loyd says:

    I do this all the time. That way I hear the character inside my head, as well as see mannerisms. I do tend to throw in comic book characters as well as actors.

  7. Avatar lidy says:

    I cast my characters all the time. And to ensure continuity I save their actor images along with their quirks, fears, desires and back story in individual documents as character dossiers.

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