I have a strangely difficult time maintaining a steady visual in my mind. You can ask my math teacher; he spent many a spare period, desperately trying to help me imagine three-dimensional vectors and curves rotating about axes to form cylinders, to no avail. I was one of his Math all-stars, but it took hours of remedial, and a lot of luck, to manage to survive Calculus.
It’s a contradiction, but when writing, I am faced with the strange situation of being able to see the events play out as if they were a film (I credit this as the reason behind my strength in writing dialogue exchanges) and yet, I can’t hold a clear stillframe of a character in mind to describe him or her. Being as I’m often prone to writer’s block lasting a year or more – and can barely draw a legible stick figure – I need something to serve as a memory device, something to jar my recall of characters. Years ago, perhaps in my mid-teens, I began employing a simple, handy device:
I cast my books.
It’s a process that can take hours, even days. Usually, the main characters come easily enough, but that’s not a given: for example, casting my model for a key Change of Season character took five months to nail down perfectly, with multiple actors ‘standing in’ for the interim. The casting choices are never precisely right – often, I have notes like, “This person, but ten years younger and with shorter hair,” or, “The lovechild of X and Y”. I always find someone eventually who serves as a good model of the loose features of my characters. Whenever I’m stumped on a scene, flipping through the images of those on my mental stage can often help me kickstart the film reel again.
If you struggle with keeping character descriptions straight, particularly with the supporting roles, try it. It’s a god-send for me.
“In that case A.C., who did you cast as Autumn Brody? Who took months to cast? Give us something!”
Hmm… That seems like a lot of information to divulge so soon! That said… my notes for Autumn Brody are: “A young Rachel Hurd Wood, with more cleavage and straight layered hair.” As for the problematic character? I’ll tell you about him another time.