I know I've had this discussion with several groups of friends, and we get excited when we see an actor who fills the part. I first saw Arinka, the protagonist of my novel, when I was going to a poetry reading at Montsalvat. I don't know who he was -- he wasn't an actor -- he was just someone in the crowd, someone whose looks stopped me in my tracks because I thought: that's him. That's Arinka.
Well, okay, obviously it wasn't him. But it was the right look. The right hair colour, the right eyes, the right shaped face, the build, a certain way of moving.
In my one storyline, I have three characters I've always wanted to cast: Arinka, his sidekick, Millyon, and the thorn in his side, Lieselle.
Arinka has been through a series of actors since I first saw that unknown young man. First was Keanu Reeves, but then I spent too long writing and rewriting and he became too old. Then, for a while I thought about James Franco, more as he appeared in Tristan and Isolde than in Spiderman. But he was a bit too sulky in the film, and a bit too well built. Then I thought about Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian), but he was too good looking. Finally, I've settled on Tom Ward ("Silent witness"), and he's just got the best voice...
Millyon has been easier: Rupert Penry-Jones ("Spooks" and Persuasion), though he should have hazel eyes, not blue. No-one is ever quite perfect for their roles -- and how funny that I'm assembling a cast of BBC actors.
Lieselle. Hmm? Who? Jennifer Connelly is too old, but is the right sort of look.
Then the other day, I was watching You Tube videos of various songs my daughter wants to sing, including clips of "Don't cry for me Argentina", when I noticed a Karen Carpenter version. As most versions were sopranos, and she has a rich, dark voice, I thought it might be an interesting contrast. How strange then to find myself watching an anime film clip from a computer game called Final Fantasy VIII. How much stranger to find Lieselle there -- as the character of Rinoa. And, even, in a way Arinka in Rinoa's lover Squall. Well, Squall has the wrong eye colour and is too good looking, but the build's right -- the comparison to her is right. And funnily a photo of a real person, modelling a Squall outfit could be Arinka. I'll have to get the game! (Though it's disturbing that in this game is a dance sequence that could come out of my second book. Still, there's still a rewrite of that one coming up...)
Actually, buying the game could be disastrous. I do remember my addiction to The Sims, and how I made it much worse by buying an expansion pack (Living Large) that allowed me to build castles. Then I modelled my sims on my characters, and that was the worst thing, as all I wanted to do was play with them all day, and playing is not writing.
I've had students who've told me they can't write because they're busy playing World of Warcraft. For days on end. Or friends who distract themselves with Solitaire. I do still play computer games, but more the Solitaire-type that aren't too addictive. I'll play them when I'm blocked, a game or two, no more, and then return to the white page. While I'm playing, I'm thinking. What I won't do is spend hours playing, days. Such distractions do not help me as a writer.
In the meantime, I now have printouts of my newest cast members -- something to look at, to inspire me -- and they will inspire me much more successfully than any computer game ever will. Computer games are stalling tactics, nothing more.