I love books and I love movies. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that I’ve been mentally casting the books I read for as long as I can remember, and that when I start to write a new book, one of the first things I do is cast the characters. When I wrote with my mom, it was a great way for us to be sure we had the same image in mind for a character. Even writing on my own, I find it’s an invaluable help in visualizing how scenes play out. I have some writer friends who clip magazine pictures for images of their characters, but for me I find thinking of actors works better. It gives me a sense not just of what the characters look like, but of how they move and talk, their gestures and mannerisms, all sorts of details that help them come to life for me. Sometimes aspects of more than one actor will go into my image of character, but there’s usually one actor who’s the main image I have in mind when I write about a given character.

Occasionally I change the actor I’m thinking of for a particular character while I’m writing a book. Often the character doesn’t come into focus for me until I have the right actor (that was particularly true with Gisèle in Beneath a Silent Moon; I struggled with her for the early part of the book in my first draft and then she fell into place when I started thinking of a different actress).

Casting beloved books has led to endless discussions on various book lists I’m on, notably involving Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and House of Niccolò series and Laurie King’s Mary Russell books. It’s fascinating and illuminating to discover the different images readers have of the same characters (yet again going to the fact that everyone reads a slightly different book). Plus it makes for fun discussions :-). Usually when a book I’ve read is filmed, the movie doesn’t seem at all like the mental film strip I had in mind when I read the book. I may love the movie and it may influence me on subsequent rereads (Richard Sharpe will always be Sean Bean for me now), but it isn’t what I had imagined when I first read the book. A notable exception is Atonement. The actors and the overall look of the movie and scenes were startlingly close to the movie in my mind when I first read the book.

A wonderful new website called StoryCasting allows one to virtually cast favorite books, post the casts (complete with pictures), and offer comments. They have five of my books listed (Daughter of the Game/Secrets of a Lady, Beneath a Silent Moon, and three of my historical romances). I’ve joined as an author member and posted a cast with some of the actors I had in mind when I wrote Daughter/Secrets. You can see the cast here and leave comments. As I mentioned in my notes to the cast, I’d love it if readers who have other ideas of how they’d cast the books posted alternate casts.

Do you mentally cast books as you read them? Writers, do you cast your own books before you start to write (or find yourself casting them as you write)? Any books you find it particularly fun to play the casting game with? Any suggestions for casting the Charles & Mélanie books? Any questions about whom I had in mind for a particular character?

I’ve also recently joined a fabulous online literary community called Redroom. Stop by and check out my author page and interact with a host of other authors. And as always, there’s a new addition this week to the Fraser Correspondence–a letter Andrew writes to Charles, after a particularly fraught meeting.