Great Trick For ‘Casting’ Your Novel

Katy King and I tried a trick this weekend to help push forward one of our manuscripts.

The problem is this: Five characters in the novel, all of whom are involved in the same field of work. But all five of whom are different enough that the readers will be able to identify them, and separate them, throughout the book.

Got it? Serious problem. Say they’re five detectives. How do you introduce them on page 20 in such a way that they’re still recognizable on page 200? You don’t want the reader thinking, “Who is this, again? I gotta flip back …”

Here’s how we solved the problem: We cast the book. We found five actors from Hollywood to “play” the characters in our heads. We picked three men and two women. They range from actors in their 40s to their 70s.

We went to Google images and downloaded five head-shots.

We pasted them into a Word document.

Now we needed names. Katy went to and got the full cast-and-crew list for a big, Hollywood blockbuster. There are hundreds and hundreds of people credited on a big film like that. Since it’s filmed in multi-ethnic Los Angeles, or shot on location around the world, that gives you a vast reservoir of ethnic names.

Where were our five characters from? One is a tough guy from Chicago. We opted for an Irish name. One is a law-and-order type from California. We gave her a Latin name. Cliché? Yeah, but I can live with that.

We looked at the names side-by-side. We had a “Peter” and a “Patrick.” They won’t work by page 200. We changed one. We had two last names that started with the letter S. We changed one.

OK. So we had five faces, five names, five regions of origin.

Now, print out the Word document and file it away. Whenever we need a scene with the five characters, we can pull it out, look at the faces, regions and names, and then begin writing dialogue and creating their voices.

Hell of a good trick. Try it on your next manuscript.

About danahaynes

Dana Haynes is the author of ICE COLD KILL (2013), BREAKING POINT (2011) and CRASHERS (2010) from Minotaur and St. Martin's Press.

Posted on June 18, 2012, in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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