Friday, April 2, 2010

Of Movie Stars and Characters

I recently discovered a website called StoryCasting, where you can cast actors in the roles of book characters. You don’t have to be the author of the book – readers are welcome to do it – but I think a couple authors have cast their stories, and I’m going to do a couple of mine.

A lot of writers, especially romance writers, will tell you that they picture specific people as they write character roles. For some writers, the actor or model is a “place holder” until the author has fully fleshed out the character’s personality and appearance. For other authors, the character looks like that actor, model or other person from inception all the way through completion of the book.

I’ve always cast actors in character roles as I read books, and I continued the practice when I started writing. It’s not even a voluntary thing – I’m just a very visual reader. When I read a book, I watch the story unfolding, like a movie, in my mind, and actors and actresses pop into the roles without my really summoning them.

The same thing started happening to me when I started writing, and now I even find that I’m attracted to characters from movies and TV – not just to the physical appearances of the actors who portray them, but to the characters themselves. I’ll start imagining different stories for a particular character – almost like fan fiction – and then the character will blur, morph, and change until they’ve turned into someone of my creation – but the kernel, the original idea, might still lie with the TV or movie character.

Twenty years ago there was a Canadian TV series based on the movie Lonesome Dove. The series picked up where the movie left off, with Newt Call settling down in the small territorial town of Curtis Wells. Newt was the hero of the series, but by far the most interesting character was the anti-hero, Colonel Clay Mosby, a Southern aristocrat and Confederate veteran who spent time in a Union prison camp and is now the defacto ruler of the whole town. He’s greedy, unscrupulous, brave, selfish, heroic, kind, cruel and very, very conflicted. In short, he has classic romantic hero traits. And as played by Eric McCormack, who went on to play Will on “Will and Grace,” he’s sexy as hell. Long curly hair, close cropped beard, a bad yet nonetheless wicked hot Southern accent, a sinuous style of movement – oh yum. I loved the idea of making up a character inspired by Mosby.

When I got to actually writing the character who turned into Cade MacDougall (see? same initials), in Rocky Mountain Howl, I found that Mosby was a little too anti, not enough hero. I just couldn’t make Cade as ruthless and damaged and violent as Mosby is. Next thing I knew, Cade had a daughter, and he was the Alpha of a whole Pack. He turned into a totally different guy.

He still looks exactly like Eric McCormack as Clay, though:

One of these days I want to write a deeply flawed hero. Lonesome Dove only lasted two seasons but at the end of the Season Two, I got the feeling the writers were trying to redeem Mosby a bit. I think they knew he was more compelling than Newt and, if the series had continued, they would’ve made him more sympathetic.

When I was writing the character of Michael, Cade’s lieutenant, all I new about his looks was that he was blond. He’s grumpy and sarcastic, unlike Cade, who’s relaxed and cheerfully arrogant. Cade and Michael both have considerable emotional baggage, but Michael’s weighs a lot more.

I sketched out his appearance, kept tinkering with it as I wrote, but I still couldn’t see him. Then one night I was watching Lost, and boom there it was – Michael looks just like Josh Holloway.

He’s nothing like Sawyer, except for the wounded little boy angst, but still – he looks just like Holloway. I like the idea of a brunet (Cade) who doesn’t brood, and a blond (Michael) who does.

Now that I’ve submitted Rocky Mountain Howl to my editor, and I’m sitting around waiting to find out if she likes it, I’ve started plotting Nick and TJ’s book. I don’t know who TJ looks like yet. I thought it was Julianne Moore, but I need someone a little more pixiesh. Nick’s easy, though. I’ve always known Nick looks like Adrian Paul, aka Duncan McLeod, the Highlander:

Oh, and the hero and heroine of my first, and so far only, published book? I know that Lark looks like Olivia Wilde – 13 from House:

For some reason, Taran looks like the model on the cover of Lynn Viehl’s Dark Need. I don’t know why, and I’ve tried to change him, but it’s stuck. I have no idea who this guy is, but he's real pretty:

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