HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I don't know. I don't know. I just DON'T KNOW. Is there something horribly missing in my knowledge of popular culture that I have no idea who would play Jake and Jane in the movies of my books? Does it date me, hideously and irrevocably, that I only want Gregory Peck and Rene Russo?
I'm not concerned, really, since although I know my books would make terrific movies, I am very happy that they are books. And you can imagine your own characters. (Gregory Peck would have been good, right? Here he is in Designing Women.)
But LynDee Walker (the terrifcally talented and hilarously clever Henery Press author) has really been thinking about this. And she's wondering--as, admit it, we all do every day--who would play the main characters in her books?
She also wonders--as admit it ,we all do, every day--do you, readers, REALLY want to know?
How Much Do You Need to Know?
Which actors would play your characters in the film version of your book?
Y’all want to win at stump the reporter? Ask me this. If I had a nickel for every time someone has done so in the past year, I could buy … well, a nice lunch, probably. But that’s more than a few nickels.
I never know how to answer it, which has caused my type A personality to spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting why.
Part of it—the most obvious part—is that I’ve spent years living with these characters. To me, they look like…themselves. When I’m writing or reading and I see Nichelle and Joey having a conversation in my head, I don’t see actors.
That’s not to say it isn’t fun, looking through head shots of beautiful people and considering who might fit best. But that brings me to another issue: playing the odds. I mean, a book deal is a hard enough thing to land. A movie? I think statistically, I have a better shot at winning Powerball and getting hit by lightning on the way to cash in the ticket.
I won’t even go (far) into the glacial force that is normal hollywood timing. But think about how long it is before some beloved characters reach the screen: unless (and sometimes, even if) your book is a huge blockbuster success and you are a bonafide household name, the chances that anyone will be casting your characters terribly soon after you win the movie lottery and sign your contract are in the Victoria’s-Secret-model slim range. So I’m casting infants to play Nichelle, and preschoolers for the guys. Bob might be in high school right now.
Of course, those are all things I can overcome for my fantastic readers, if casting is what they want. So I peruse head shots. I make lists. But still, something nagged.
It wasn’t until I was chatting via email with the talented lady who did the trailer for my newest novel, Small Town Spin (now that was a fun process, and she did a lovely, above-expectations job), that I found the heart of my discomfort with casting my stories.
I don’t want to create the picture of the character for the reader.
I want the reader to imagine the people in my novels however they see them. You want to put yourself in Nichelle’s fabulous stilettos? Enjoy. You want Joey to look like Mr. Tall-and-Dark you see on the elevator every morning, but can’t talk to (seize the day, sister. You never know if you don’t step out there)? Or like your husband, or your long-lost crush? Have at it.
I don’t write a ton of character description into my books. On purpose. I just didn’t put it together with my “cast your book” phobia until the trailer discussion.
The designer asked me for a physical description of each main character, which I gave—as I see them. About an hour later I had a mild panic attack when I realized she was looking for images to match those descriptions. Since I try so hard to let readers imagine Nichelle and her friends as they wish, I didn’t want the trailer to put images in readers’ heads before they’d opened the book.
That’s not to say there’s no character description. But it’s minimal. From the books, you get that Nichelle is tall, fit, has longish dark hair, and violet eyes. And not exactly ample cleavage. You fill in the rest with your wonderful reader imagination.
One of my favorite things is for readers to tell me they see Nichelle as African-American, Native American, or Indian. Those emails make me want to fistbump myself, because I feel I’ve done exactly what I set out to do. No matter how Nichelle looks to me, it puts a ridiculous grin on my face that others see her differently. I take it to mean they’re seeing themselves, or someone they’d like to be friends with, in my heroine. Which makes her a real person to them. Writer warm fuzzy.
I fired off an email explaining that, and my fantastic trailer wizard quickly agreed. She did a beautiful job of finding images of long legs in high heels and dark stockings.
As an added bonus, the back and forth brought this dilemma I’ve had with the ever-popular casting question into sharp relief.
When I read a book I like to imagine the characters for myself. I want to give my readers that same treat when they read my novels, and at least in some cases, I have. I’d hate to ruin a reader’s vision by saying I think someone who looks all wrong for their Nichelle should be cast in the part.
How about you, Femmes? What do y’all think of the “list your dream cast” question (and Miss Charlaine, can you tell us what it was like to see your characters on screen)?
Dear readers: do you like to imagine characters for yourself, or do you want the author to tell you the placement of every freckle?
HANK: Yes! SUCH a good question! What do you think? And a copy of LynDee's new SMALL TOWN SPIN to a lucky commenter!
LynDee Walker’s award-winning journalistic work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation. After nearly a decade covering crime, courts, and local politics, she left full-time reporting for motherhood with a side of freelancing and fiction writing. LynDee’s debut novel, FRONT PAGE FATALITY, is an amazon and Barnes & Noble #1 bestseller, and an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. SMALL TOWN SPIN is the third in her Headlines in High Heels mystery series. The fourth arrives January 2015.
LynDee adores her family, her readers, and enchiladas. She works out tricky plot points while walking off the enchiladas. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is either playing with her children or working on her next novel—but probably not cleaning her house. You can find her online at www.lyndeewalker.com.
When a superstar athlete's son turns up dead in a tiny town on the Virginia coast, crime reporter Nichelle Clarke gets the inside scoop. But she quickly spies a gaping hole her inner Lois Lane cannot ignore.
Determined to unravel the mystery, Nichelle fights off paparazzi cameras and an unexpected rival. She uncovers an illegal moonshine operation, a string of copycat suicides, and a slew of closets stacked with more skeletons than slingbacks. Chasing a killer who’s a breath from getting away with murder, Nichelle realizes too late the culprit has her number—and it might be up.