James Scott Bell in his book Revision & Self-Editing, advises writers to cast their characters. “You may use any actor in history…and the reader will never know that’s who you had in mind” (108). Though this may be the first time I’ve seen this in print, it’s not a new technique for me. I’ve been casting my characters since I was a teenager. I’ve cast many of my favourite actors in parts including Michael Ironside, Nick Mancuso, Joe Flanigan, and Arnold Vosloo. I call them my muses, because as I imagine them in the parts, the scenes practically write themselves.
My latest muse is my current favourite actor, Robert Carlyle. I was first made aware of Mr. Carlyle in the role of Dr. Nicholas Rush on Stargate: Universe. I dearly love the entire Stargate franchise, but I found myself hard pressed to like the characters on Universe with one exception. I couldn’t figure out Rush, and that intrigued me. When the writers finally gave Rush a softer side, a history and a relationship, I was all that more intrigued. He quickly became my favourite character, the only one I cared about. I realize now that this was a tribute to the actor that played him, and not due to the writing behind the character. I was disappointed when the show was cancelled because it meant the end of Nicholas Rush. Imagine my thrill when I found out that Mr. Carlyle would be starring in the wonderful Once Upon a Time the following season.
In the time between Universe and OUAT I made an effort to see as much of this brilliant actor as I could. The Full Monte, Stone of Destiny, Eight Weeks Later, Eragon, Ravenous…The more I watched, the more I became mesmerized with the man and realized what an amazing actor he is. About the same time, I was looking to recast the character of Dr. Palmer Richardson, the forensic anthropologist that was married to my main character. After much deliberating (it’s hard to change the persona of a beloved character you’ve been writing about for most of your life), it was decided—Robert Carlyle would make an excellent Palmer Richardson.
When writing on The Next Coming Race, the novel that would be the debut of Mr. Carlyle as Palmer stalled, I felt a sense of loss. Here I’d just found a new muse and I had nothing to muse about. When the idea for Chicken or Egg came, it only seemed natural that I would cast Mr. Carlyle in that as well. This time it worked. I hear Mr. Carlyle as the voice of Dr. Nigel Trumble, the time-travelling mogul with a personal agenda, in my head. I’ve been writing at least a chapter a day ever since.
At this time in my writing career, my second and best writing attempt, Phase Shift, is currently under scrutiny at a publisher and I check my email several times a day with baited breath, hoping they are taking their time getting back to me because they intend to publish it and are compiling a list of changes before they do and not because its sitting on an editor’s desk somewhere waiting attention. I want to be ready with the next novel, or at least a part of it, should they want to see more. No matter which character they see, be it Palmer or Nigel, he will have a little bit of my current muse, Mr. Robert Carlyle, written into him.
Bell, James Scott. Revision & Self-Editing. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati. 2008.