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MENU FOR ROMANCE: The Character-Casting Process

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Anyone who’s heard me talk about writing at all, or who’s been reading the blog for any length of time, knows one of my writing tools that I use, probably to excess, is the character-casting process. For an in-depth discussion on what this process is, check out the Be Your Own Casting Director section on the Writing Series Index page.

Being a visually oriented person, I have to know what my characters look like before I start writing. Maybe immediately turning to a “casting book” and finding someone who fits a vague mental image of a character is the lazy way of doing things, but it works for me. And in actuality, most of my characters (the heroes) come into being for me because I have the innate ability to spontaneously develop a crush on someone I’ve seen, be it on TV, in the movies, or even in real life (which is harder, because I typically won’t be able to get pictures to remember the exact details later—so that’s why I stick to “personalities” like actors/actresses/sports stars/newscasters, etc., so I can find lots of pictures of them). Okay, I know, I digress. I said I wasn’t going to go into the process in this blog.

For those of you who may not know, while the idea for the storyline of Stand-In Groom was inspired by my discontent with the storyline of the movie The Wedding Planner, the inspiration for George Laurence came from the actor Peter Wingfield (best known for his role as Methos in the Highlander TV show). And because I wanted a nontraditional physical presence for the heroine, I chose the first plus-sized supermodel, Melissa “Emme” Aronson, for Anne Hawthorne.

Since the characters for Menu for Romance and A Case for Love are introduced in Stand-In Groom, I had to know who they were while I was writing it. So most of the main characters in those two books I had already cast before I started writing their books. In fact, by the time I was well into the first few “false starts” on SIG, I had cast Anne’s entire extended family. So this is sort of the character-casting process for the whole series.

I do have to add this one little tidbit that I forgot to share in Monday’s “Inspiration” post. When I first started writing Menu I had only a vague idea of what might be the storyline of the third book. Actually, all I really knew about it was that it would be Forbes’s story. I had no idea who his heroine would be . . . until she walked onto the stage in Menu for Romance and announced she was not only a potential foil for Major and Meredith’s romance, but she was Forbes’s perfect match. And fortunately, this happened in time for me to be able to work her name into Stand-In Groom (just once, but she’s there!) as if I’d known who she was from the very beginning.

Meredith Guidry

Meredith, stately and graceful, light hair set off to perfection by her brown velvet dress—like strawberries served with chocolate ganache—swept into the kitchen, drawing the attention of every man present.

Let’s start with Meredith, since she was cast long before Major was even a twinkle in my eye. Because I started the casting process with Anne and worked my way back into her extended family from there, I already had some basic genetics to go by. So while I may not look enough like my cousins that you’d know we’re related just by looking at us (for example click here to compare me with my first cousin Caleb Abel—especially the photo at the end of the post), there are definitely some similar genetic markers there, which is what I wanted for my characters. (Yes, I was corrupted by having two scientists as parents, one of whom has taught units on genetics in her biology courses for several years and passed along enough to be dangerous and annoying—because now I always have to wonder: is that genetically possible? before I can make a decision on what a character looks like.) So, once I’d picked out Meredith’s father (Lawson Guidry, real-world template: Alan Rickman) and her mother (Mairee Guidry, real-world template Anne Archer), I was able to start choosing their offspring—some of whom have Lawson’s light brown eyes (like Meredith) and some of whom have Mairee’s blue-gray eyes (like Forbes). And while in the picture of the real-world template for Meredith, Julie Bowen, she has sort of dishwater blond hair, in the books, I’ve given her strawberry blond hair, picking up the blond from Alan Rickman and a little of the auburn from Anne Archer. Other characters in the books whom you might like to take a peek at are Meredith’s older brother Forbes Guidry (real-world template: Julian McMahon), a younger sister Jennifer “Jenn” Guidry (real-world template: Josie Bissett, again with much redder hair than the template), and a younger brother Rafael “Rafe” Guidry (real-world template: Luke Mably). In choosing Julie Bowen for Meredith’s template, I was getting a woman of about average height, of about average build (well, she looks average in pictures, I’m sure she’s rail-thin in real life, as most actresses are), and who had an expressive face and distinctive eyes. Perfect for Meredith who, while she doesn’t mind dressing up in very tailored (and expensive) suits for her office job, as well as evening dresses for the events she plans and does on-site coordination for, her favorite thing to wear is paint-splattered jeans, work boots, and a ratty T-shirt, with no makeup and her hair pulled up in a ponytail, so she can work on renovations of her house.

Major O’Hara

A soft smile hinted at Major’s dimples; Meredith ignored her squirmy stomach—just as she tried to ignore the fact that the dark green shirt he wore made his eyes a vivid violet-blue.

Let’s get to the yumminess that is Major O’Hara, our executive chef whom Meredith has been in love with for the past eight years. It’s hard to tell because of the lighting in this picture, but Tyler Florence, the real-world template for Major O’Hara, has eyes that are almost a violet blue. How do I know this? Because during the time when I was writing Stand-In Groom and needed a template for a chef/caterer character, I was addicted to a show on Food Network called Food 911 hosted by, you guessed it, Chef Tyler Florence. As time moved on in the writing of these stories, so did Tyler, to his own show, Tyler’s Ultimate, which, of course, is what gave me the idea for Major O’Hara to be asked to host a cooking segment on the noon “news magazine” program on one of the local TV stations. One thing I noticed about Tyler Florence that I worked into Major’s character: Tyler is almost always in some shade of blue or gray. I also give a nod to some of Tyler’s more annoying speech patterns in the book the first time Major shoots a segment (like saying “all right” way too much). Now, the only family member Major has is his mother, Beverly O’Hara (real-world template: Gates McFadden) with white hair instead of red, chosen primarily because of the image I linked to. Why her? Possibly because I’d seen an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation on which she thought she was losing her mind? I don’t exactly remember how I came across her, but I remember that as soon as I saw that photo, I knew she was Major’s schizophrenic mom.

Secondary Characters
Of course, Anne, George, Forbes, and Jenn all play roles in Menu for Romance, but there are a couple of other secondary characters of note:
Ward Breaux, a contractor whom Meredith meets on New Year’s Day at the hardware store after praying her prayer that she won’t still be alone at New Year’s next year (real-world template: Eduardo Xol, from Home Makeover). And Alaine Delacroix, the gorgeous TV social-scene reporter who asks Major to do a cooking segment on her noontime news program (real-world template: Morena Baccarin, best known for her role in Firefly/Serenity).

For more images, check out my “sets” for each book on Flickr:
Stand-In Groom
Menu for Romance
A Case for Love

  1. Wednesday, June 10, 2009 11:16 am

    I so appreciate these recent posts. When writers use specific books to illustrate their writing lessons, it helps so much more.

    I haven’t tried character casting, but I might. As a writer, I see where it could be helpful with pinning down the details and making the characters seem real as the story comes to life.

    As a reader, I love a description that allows my imagination to play, and hate when authors name the person that the character is supposed to look like, robbing me of the opportunity to create my own image.


    • Wednesday, June 10, 2009 2:57 pm

      As a reader, I want the author to give enough information in their descriptions that I can come up with a mental image of the character—but like you, I don’t want them to tell me on the page who they look like, because I might not agree. Of course, I love seeing these types of posts after I’ve read a book so I can compare where the author was coming from with what I pictured from their descriptions.


  2. Carman Boley permalink
    Wednesday, June 10, 2009 12:15 pm

    That was a great post! So many useful things. I will be sitting at my desk looking at these pics when I read your books now 😉 SIG is still in transit, last time I looked it was in INDIANAPOLIS, IN. *sigh* It will be here soon.


    • Wednesday, June 10, 2009 2:59 pm

      It’ll be soon, I’m sure. I just hope it lives up to your expectations, now. 😉


  3. Wednesday, June 10, 2009 2:02 pm

    I love the character-casting part! It was so awesome to see the pictures!!!! Thanks sooo much for sharing this…it gives me courage to share my own.

    And I totally agree about “most of my characters (the heroes) come into being for me because I have the innate ability to spontaneously develop a crush on someone I’ve seen, be it on TV, in the movies…” That’s totally me. 😉


    • Wednesday, June 10, 2009 3:00 pm

      Be sure to let me know if you share yours on your blog–I’d love to see them!


  4. Wednesday, June 10, 2009 7:27 pm

    I LOVE Morena Baccarin. I think she’s absolutely beautiful. I hope Alaine isn’t a bad girl!

    How do I make it so I have my picture by my name instead of an alien?


    • Wednesday, June 10, 2009 7:31 pm

      Sign up for a free WordPress username/account and upload a picture!


  5. Wednesday, June 10, 2009 7:28 pm

    Wait, I think I remember Alaine’s name from SIG. Is she going to be Forbes’s lady?


    • Wednesday, June 10, 2009 7:32 pm

      You know, originally she was just going to be the vixen in this book, but the better I got to know her, the more I realized she was the perfect match for Forbes!


  6. Thursday, June 11, 2009 6:26 pm

    Oh, this is fun! And I love Morena Baccarin in Firefly. I’ll never be able not to think of her when I’m reading the book. I can’t wait for them to arrive.

    Thanks for sharing your thought processes. It’s so cool to see how another writer does it. 🙂


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