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B&N Week 170: Casting–Do You Do It?

| March 25, 2014

BoltsNutsFeatured-casting

We’ve got another Tuesday! I thank you for spending some of it with me. I appreciate it.

This week’s question is: casting—do you do it?

When you create a character, don’t fall into the trap of mistaking characteristics for character. These two things are night and day. You can say what a character likes to do, and you can say that they’ve learned and when they learned it, or how hot tempered/laid back they are, but those are just traits—characteristics that do not help you to round out your characters.

All characters have a gap, and that gap is filled with actual character. Sounds silly, but I’ll explain.

Your characters aren’t revealed until you put them under pressure. Character is what you do and how you perform in a crisis. This is true in life, and since characters all strive to mimic real life [no matter how fanciful the setting], what’s true in life will be true in fiction. Character will be revealed when in crisis.

So, if your character is handsome, successful, is kind to kids, and is a bit of a philanderer, that doesn’t matter much. What will matter is what will happen when your character is confronted with violence by another woman’s husband.

Let’s look at a favorite: Star Wars. Everyone thinks they know Han Solo, and he’s almost at a despicable level when he’s leaving to go pay Jabba the Hut, despite the fact that the Rebels are going up against the Death Star and could use all the help they can get. He walks away, and he knows he’s made a bad choice, but he figures it is the lesser of two evils. Then, during the fighting, he saves Luke by blasting Vader, and helps to save the day. His showed character by leaving, and another side of it by coming back. He did it under crisis.

When you start writing characters, you know what you’d like your characters to do, but you don’t have that good of a handle on them just as yet. They’re amorphous in your mind, meaning they aren’t yet fully realized. How do you overcome this?

Casting.

I have a story that I want to tell. In it, I have a cab driver who is damaged goods. She’s very attractive, but she is dead inside. She wants to feel again. She was a combat nurse in Afghanistan, and is now back and haunted. She’s an alcoholic, and will sleep with almost any fare that propositions her, making more money in doing so. I know that I want to put her through some paces, but I don’t know much about her.

Very attractive. I don’t even know what that means. It’s so vague as to be almost useless. I’ve given her some attributes, but nothing that’s very deep. I haven’t given her any real character yet, because I can’t “see” her. I have to put a face to her.  So I did.

Anne Hathaway. This will give me more traits that I can “see”, and that will lead me to character when I put her in crisis during the telling of the story. She would make different choices under stress than Christina Hendricks would, and Christina would make different choices than Alyson Hannigan.

Casting your characters will allow you to find the gap, and the character’s reaction to crisis will be more genuine.

When you hear about “forced” action in a story, you’re really hearing about a character that is acting in a fashion contrary to their character has been revealed to be, or contrary to what logic would dictate. A lot of the time, this can be attributed to the writer not casting their character, and then just writing instead of actually seeing what their character would do and respond to stress.

Casting can be a challenge, because you want a certain look for your character, as well as wanting them to have certain traits, and be able to respond in a certain way under stress. When I cast, I don’t use people I know. I may name my characters after people I know, and I may give them some physical traits, but that’s where it ends. The reason for this is simple: the real person may not always be flattered in how you portray “them.” If you know a guy named Gary Weech and a woman named Lisa Ventura, sure you could use their names, but if the characters are your protagonists, they may not like that role you’ve placed them in. It’s possible they could sue for defamation. (Shades of Todd McFarlane, yes?) [Could be.]

Instead of casting people I know, I cast actors and actresses. The reason for this is simple: they’ve probably already been in a role or six that is close to the character I’m going to be writing, and so I’ll have an easier time writing for the gap when the time comes. I’ll know how they’re going to react under stress, because I’ve seen it before in films and television. It will also keep me honest, meaning I won’t stray into something that is uncharacteristic of them.

Consciously or unconsciously, you’re going to do some sort of casting for your stories. If you look, you can find traits of other characters in some of your favorite comic book characters. Bugs Bunny can be found in Spider-Man, Groucho Marx can be found in Deadpool, and so on.

When you have a blank slate, basically just a name and some attributes, I wouldn’t suggest you to start writing until after the character has been cast. This way, you won’t be floundering on the page trying to find a voice and the gap of the character. You’ll know beforehand.

Casting can be fun, and we’ve been doing it forever. How many times have we said that Patrick Stewart was a natural for Professor X? How many articles have been written doing the casting of various comics? Instead of casting the next X-Men or Daredevil movie, cast your own comic! Not only will it be fun, but your stories should be better because of it.

That’s all for this week. See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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