11.37: Casting Your Book, with Gama Martinez

Live from Phoenix Comic Con, Gama Martinez joins us for a discussion of casting your book. This is the process by which you create a cast of characters for your story ahead of creating the story itself, allowing you to stay ahead of your default decisions for who will step into the scene next.

Credits: this episode was recorded live at Phoenix Comic Con by Jeff Cools, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Cast your book! The instructions are here, and you’ll follow them by filling out something that looks like this casting sheet. The sheet is read-only, but you can copy it or print it or whatever you need to do in order to create one of your own.


Child of the Wilde, by Gama Martinez

15 thoughts on “11.37: Casting Your Book, with Gama Martinez”

  1. I hear the diversity for diversity’s sake argument alot, but are there instances where it can be done in less conventional ways? A good example in recent media was “The Witcher 3”, which has little to no skin diversity(at least in the main game), but has different races. It got flamed in the media for being “too white”, but the game has heavy undertones of racism, sexism, and alot of other versions of intolerance. They use the actual races(as opposed to skin color) to show racism and diversity, but that didn’t seem to cut it for many people.
    Also on a separate note, did you all recently get a new host for your website? I have found over the last month or so its been down for stretches of time far more frequently than in the past. Of course, it might just be me, but was wondering if I was the only one.

  2. Witcher 3 is a great example of when the history–based on Poland/Polish legends loosely, I believe–supports being majority white. The controversy around that game made it seem as if the detractors were saying any white characters didn’t ‘count’ towards diversity, which is very much the opposite of the message that should be sent.

    The fact that The Witcher 3 is considered by the community to be an instant classic, in spite of this, says it all.

    On a side note, could you guys discuss more about what diversity DOES to a story in future podcasts on this subject (if there are any)? Trying to think of diversity as a tool instead of a box I need to check: innovation vs chore.

  3. This was quite an interesting podcast. My stories are quite character based and it will be useful to put them all onto a paper to see where the tension can come from.

    I like diversity. It makes things interesting and I can explore how different characters act in different situations. Also, it gives more of a backstory.

    One example would be writing about a Vietnamese character in Warsaw. Which, interestingly enough, there is quite a large amount of Vietnamese people in Warsaw.

    But, I don’t really add a character just to be a man, woman, or of a different culture. Characters just kind of pop into my head and, unless the story feels odd, I don’t really try and balance it.

  4. Who is going to be in your story? Think again! What happens to your story when you lay out the roles, then try shifting some of the default choices? What if a chef did it, what if a college kid player did it, what if an FBI cop had to teach kindergarten? Go ahead, mix those roles and people up, and see what happens!

    The frank foursome, plus Gama Martinez, take a long hard look at the advantages of shaking up your cast before you start writing. So go take a look at the archives or over here


    And read all about it!

  5. I agree with this being well timed for NaNoWriMo prepping. I really enjoyed the discussion, but I wish the directions were a bit better for the homework. I do not quite understand exactly what to put as a value in the spreadsheet to flip. For age, do I put a number, or just say that they are old or young?

    1. You put something in the box that means something to you. Be as specific as you can be. Don’t be afraid of it; it’s just an exercise, and you can always change it later.

  6. Kyle, FWIW… My interpretation.

    Okay, let’s take it step by step. First, fill in the casting sheet for the roles you think you have. E.g., hero, villain, sidekick, mentor… Whatever roles you have. For each one, fill in the columns, too. How old are they, what abilities, gender, etc. Use the measures that make sense to you.

    Now, fill in the casting sheet again. Same roles. But don’t just copy the columns down, try flipping things. Changing them. If someone was a child in the first version, make them old this time, or at least middle-aged. Flip genders. Change races. And so on.

    Now, I personally consider it a bit oversimplified to talk about flipping — often there are multiple choices. But at least consider changing something that was “high status” into “low status” and vice-versa. Make those kitchen cleaners into princesses! And turn those princes into toads. Or at least make the CEO park cars for a day…

    So you will end up with at least two versions of the casting sheet. One with the first notion entries in the various columns. The second with a changed cast.

    As Mary suggested, you may want to tweak the spreadsheet, too. For example, maybe you want job or employment in your columns. Put it in there! If fencing ability is important in your story, add it! Then make sure to think about what happens when your hero is good at fencing, and what happens when she is better with barbed wire.

  7. Related to the exercise, how are traits defined as dominate or subordinate? I’m sure this was explained in an earlier episode, but I must have missed that one. Great exercise!

  8. The idea of diversity is a very modern one. During the Roman empire, diversity caused huge conflict. If you’re looking for conflict, diversity is a good place to find it in the real world and in fiction, Multiculturalism on the other hand is nothing more than a modern, failed experiment.

  9. The casting sheet is a great idea, especially for plotters who know which roles they need to fill before they know the characters who will fill them.

    What about those of us who tend to start projects by free-writing character driven explorations? Before I ever know plot or theme or conflict, I tend to know character and situation. I just write whatever character pops in my head and see what happens.

    I get how this could easily become homogenized with little to no planning, so any tips for how to use the casting sheet idea to add diversity to unplanned projects?

    1. How about filling in the casting sheet as you go, after writing a chunk? That way, you’d have a summary of what you’ve written to consider, and could see if you are tending to reuse the same traits too much. Instead of trying to fill it in ahead of time, use it as a “as you go” check sheet of what you’ve done?

  10. Hi, I have a question. Of all the advice you guys give on your show, what are some key things a new writer should focus on in their first book?

  11. The ‘role’ bit is throwing me. I know I can put down hero, mentor, sidekick, but I’d like to try writing out a lot of supporting characters in this casting sheet, and I can’t see where many of them fit into the book just yet.

    I know, I know, just try it.

    But I learn much better when I have examples to follow.

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