Cast Your Characters


Why Casting Your Characters Helps Your Mystery

To make your character function in your story world, you need to create details that set each one apart from the others. While the most important feature of your character in the story is the context, how they serve the story, help your readers identify each character with details.


  • How they dress
  • How they speak
  • Their voice
  • Their speech patterns
  • Unique quirks
  • Individual physical traits

Thriller writer Dana Haynes recently spoke at my local Sisters in Crime chapter. He advised something I’ve been doing for years, “Cast your characters.” Use film actors and personalities to embody your character as you write. It doesn’t matter if they are living. What you want is the sense of how they move and speak.

I cast footballer Ádám Bogdán as one of Argolicus’ bodyguards, in my present work in progress The Grain Merchant. I wanted the energy and fierceness always in my head when writing.


Character Traits

You can differentiate your characters with distinct character traits. It’s OK to borrow from those famous people. Use your character Bible to keep notes so when you bring a character back after 50 pages, you know the details.


Create a background for each one of your characters. Some writers use a binder, others use built in character notes from software like Scrivener or StoryShop. Whatever tool you choose, enumerate the character traits that differentiate the character to make them memorable for your reader.

You’ll guide your readers through the maze of characters you create with specific details. If a character gets left behind for 50 pages, one outstanding detail will refresh your reader’s memory.

Borrow freely from your actor. As well as physical and personality traits, your actor may inspire the perfect secret and the lies your character constructs to make them a suspicious suspect.

The actor’s voice and speech patterns will help you write dialogue unique to each character.

When you cast each character, you’ll have an immediate fix on their personality as you write. You’ll have a red head with attitude, a debonair ex-husband, or a sultry, pouting mistress. (Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, Gloria Graham.)

Your Casting Call

Once you have your character’s context in the story, start searching for your cast.


If you already have an actor in mind, gather some images and put them in your character Bible. If you need to get a better fix on a character, perform an online search with terms like sex, age, and hair color. A broad search will give you plenty of results. Narrow your choices down to one or possibly two.

This selection process helps you understand your character, because from the wide range of choices, you’ll see that many don’t fit. And, you’ll discover that an actor you hadn’t thought about, is just the right persona.

Both the search and the final choice will help you write a character that readers remember.

Zara Altair

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