I was at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (California’s answer to Starbucks — wherever there’s a Starbucks, there’s a Coffee Bean on the opposite corner, sucking away the competition) with my kid when I noticed the physical inspiration for my character Nick in my upcoming novel UNINVITED walking up to the counter.
His real name is Jason Dohring and he plays the character Logan on the show VERONICA MARS, the first two seasons of which I was obsessed with (on DVD) during the writing of UNINVITED. Nick was already tall and lanky by the time I noticed Logan/Dohring, which is probably why it seemed so natural to infuse Nick with some of Dohring’s mannerisms — just small things that are fun to observe, fun to describe, which make the character more textured in your own mind and hopefully for the reader as well (and, since you’re using people who are more or less public property, you don’t risk pissing off anyone in your real life…)
I’m sure I’m not the only writer who does this — who helps herself create the ‘mindset’ she needs for a new character by casting a real-life person in the role. Although I am an extraordinarily word-oriented person — I’ve never been someone who takes a lot of photographs, despite repeated attempts to develop that habit, since my natural inclination is to take some kind of mental snapshot and write about it later — I’m also an intensely visual writer. The story becomes my own private movie unfolding in the back of my head. So feeding my head with helpful images is vital to the process — if I ‘see’ Nick and Kelly having a conversation beneath the high school bleachers, and I’ve created Nick out of various influences that happen to include someone like Jason Dohring, then my mind-movie is developed enough to throw off those specific little details that I can grab and put in the writing without consciously thinking about them.
Not every character gets ‘cast’, and I’m not sure why some do and some don’t. The two major characters in UNINVITED — my protagonist Kelly and her brother Jasper — never got, or needed, any help from central casting. I had a strong sense of who Kelly was right from the moment I started the first draft. Jasper’s character evolved a lot more — starting out as a kind of golden-boy All-American popular type, but then, as the demands of the story began to make themselves clear, turning into someone very different (and much more interesting) while retaining traces of that original image (which he himself fights to reject, cast off, as he discovers a ‘real’ self more creative and counterculture-inclined).
The villian was a different story. I had some issues with creating Archie that were very different from the issues I had with Asha, my villian from BLOODANGEL. With Asha, I had a very physical sense of her — I knew exactly what she looked like, how she moved, the impression she made on others, what she wore, etc. — but I didn’t understand who she was or why she was that way, how she thought and spoke, etc., until the very last draft (which is when I also changed the fate I had originally planned for her). I never ‘cast’ Asha because I never needed to; and the problems I had with her weren’t problems that casting could help me with….unlike Archie, who was the inverse. I knew who he was. He was ‘alive’ for me in every way…except physically. I couldn’t figure out what he was wearing. I knew he was fair, but beyond that I just blanked. I had no sense of his movements, gestures, mannerisms.
Until he got ‘cast’. At the time I was following the reality/competition show ROCK STAR:INXS and it finally occurred to me that Marty Casey (who would ultimately be runner-up, and should have won the whole damn thing, but whatever) had a very Archie kind of quality. And with that, my sense of the character clicked into place. I stole what I needed from Casey, including an outfit or two, and finished developing a bad guy I became extremely fond of.