I’ve discovered some great descriptions to use in Mind & Machine and it was all thanks to casting.
Let me rewind a little. I know I’ve discussed a specific case of this in a previous post, but I want to say something about casting a novel and what it does to the story.
When I built Oriane, I did so with very specific ideas of what I wanted and needed to see in her character. I think I earned a few character points with Oriane not being just a carbon copy of Number Six, even though I had Tricia Helfer in mind. Most of the time, the actor cast is not part of the mentality in the character’s genesis, but can aid in making descriptive statements.
The text I figured out today deals with the Business Executive and Decimal member, P. Johnson Dalton. Dalton serves as the POV for the first half of Mind & Machine‘s first chapter so he can hint at Decimal’s plan, but also to show Commander from an external source. I recently thought about who I would cast in a Mind & Machine movie if I could put anyone in the role I wanted and decided Timothy Olyphant of Justified and Deadwood fame would be a good fit. Here’s the text I came up with:
He wore a fashionable amount of stubble on an ageless face.
It’s a simple note that goes with other descriptors, but it comes directly from my perception of Timothy Olyphant. In a lot of ways, he’s aged little since I first noticed him in the movie Dreamcatcher. A lot of the time, he has a slightly unshaven look, just enough to make him look distinguished. Clearly, I harvested that too.
Another example is a character I have planned by have not yet written. A long time ago, I came up with a Sith character for a Star Wars RPG. She was driven by an inner pain of having been a slave for many years, a pretty slave who was forced to dance for her owners… before she killed them. Here’s a picture of Alindra Vordrinn:
Now, I based this drawing on a picture of a real actress, an actress I think is not only lovely, but quite talented. It took some time, but I eventually found a way to use Alindra as a villain in my work, separating her from the restraints of George Lucas’ empire. When I found this role for Alindra, I figured out a fantastic actress who would own that part, even though she wasn’t Kate Beckinsale, who my drawing is based on. Instead, my mind went down this road:
Right now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “First Tricia Helfer, now Anna Torv. Len must be a sucker for blondes.” You know what? No, I’m not. Not entirely at least.
One of Alindra Vordrinn’s characteristics is that she has the sweetest, most beautiful smile ever seen. On Fringe, at least before season three and the coming of Fauxlivia, Olivia Dunham rarely smiles, and then only a little. Alindra is a character who seduces her enemies to throw them off guard, Olivia would rather just stop the bad guy and save the day. Two very different characters, yet, I think there should come a day when Anna Torv can say she’s played them both. In this case, I had an image for a character and it grew, eventually fitting another actress.
My final example is to show that time and space need not have any opinion when it comes to casting a character for a novel. Last year, I put together a draft of Dual Identities in a blazing amount of time. Part of why I could do that is that I found two very good actors to fill the roles of the protagonist, Kathryn Angel, and the primary antagonist, Trafton da Silva. While I could share a few words on casting characters just for Dual Identities, I’ll simply make note of Trafton.
Let me start off by saying Trafton is a middle-aged man from Brazil and would be a daunting challenge for any actor to play. He has all the symptoms of leprosy, yet lacks the actual disease. He has false toes, gloves filled with several false fingers, and is ridden with sores. Halfway through the book, his condition becomes worse still.
When I thought about these demands, I had a lot of trouble thinking who might fit best. I wanted to see Trafton cast in my mind, so I could rally behind him in his chapters, regardless of his ultimate goals. In many ways, I set up Trafton as a tragic hero more than a villain, but I needed the image of an actor who would not only sell the role, but would likely win a trophy for it.
Raul Julia was such an actor. Before his untimely death in 1994, I always found his characters and performances engaging. Any time I saw him on screen, I always leaned a little closer. His words had weight, even if his tone was soft or bombastic. Sure, he was from Puerto Rico, not Brazil, but I’m casting a role, not rewriting it to fit someone else’s life.
Regardless, I say this, should you cast a novel you are reading or writing: Find actors with strength and power all their own. Find those who would do the part justice, not just look the part. Find faces who will speak their words with the proper conviction and believe it as though it was their own faith. That is my approach in casting, I hope you will make it yours as well.