Take a Director’s Approach: Cast Your Characters

Do you have a favorite vocal artist? Maybe two or three? You love them because of their unique voice and maybe their lyrics. They’re memorable. You turn your radio on and you hear the first verse–or the first few notes–and you know right away who that artist is. You can picture her in your mind, see her hair, what she’s wearing, how she struts her dance moves.

Why not make your character’s “voices” as memorable?

Let me show you a fun way of making your characters stand out on the page and maybe they’ll wiggle their way into an publisher’s clutches.

Here’s how I do it:  I CAST MY CHARACTERS

  • IN YOUR MIND ONLY interview actors, cousins, comedians and other people you know to play the role of a particular character in your story. WHO do you know who might fit a quirky, dry, evil, or fun character–whatever role you’re trying to fill? (NOTE: Do NOT interview them in person. Don’t EVER let anyone know they’ve inspired you to write a particular part in your novel unless it’s the BEST and most beautiful character alive. And remember–those don’t exist. No one is perfect.)
  • Attach a vision in your mind of that person every time you write a scene they’re in. If you need to, cut a photo of them out of a magazine or your photo album and paste it near you while you’re writing. Some authors keep thick folders full of places, people, and research while they’re writing a novel.
  • Ask yourself: how would he talk? How would he walk? What are his life experiences? How do they differ from the other characters in your story? Do they compete? Do they create conflict? (I hope so.)
  • DO NOT make that character identical to your spouse, your boyfriend, or your mom to the point they can recognize themselves. This could be DANGEROUS.
  • When you sit down to write their part of the story visualize them as if they’re acting in front of you. Set the stage. Feel their presence. Let the camera roll.
  • Now, take that character and add a twist. Make a part of her unpredictable. Give her a personality trait that doesn’t fit that person. Give her an obsession or a phobia.

Let me illustrate with a character I created in one of my novels:

When I wrote WILLOW, a paranormal suspense novel about a girl who heals animals, I needed her to have a quirky side-kick. Someone to offer comic relief, but also someone who could be a mentor to fifteen-year-old Willow. AND I wanted her to be a little odd. I closed my eyes and thought of who this person would look like, act like, and talk like. And POOF. One actress came to mind. (I’ve never revealed this secret.)

A lady from a soap opera I used to watch when I was a teenager. All My Children. (Is it on TV anymore? I don’t know.) But this lady had red hair and a twangy voice and dressed in tight pants, and stilettos. Her character always stood out in my mind as eccentric–which is what I needed. She did flamboyant things, but was likable for her differences. She was the one!

I took that “visual” I had of her and molded her the way I wanted–to fit her into my own silly version. What I came up with was Aunt Fifi (short for Stephanie)–a 50-something lady with pink hair who wears skinny jeans, stilettos, and talks like she ‘ain’t got no learnin’s. She says things like, “I don’t mean to add any more stinky beans to your pot, but…” Then, I made her super smart. She appears like a ding-bat on the outside, but inside I made her strong in her convictions, kooky, and a person who LIKES who she is. Then I gave her a profession that went against all her prissy looks–I made her a technical nut who installs electric dog fences (in her stilettos.) Picture that! Can you see her?


Now it’s YOUR turn: Imagine you’re writing a scene about a cop. He’s a macho guy with an attitude for punks. He’s quick-witted and not afraid to say what’s on his mind. His martial arts skills are impressive and he typically plays in fast-action, shoot-em-up types of stories. Who comes to mind? Does he have a sensitive side? What if you make him a dancer, too?

You’re the director. CAST him into your story any way you want!

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  1. This is Michelle. I received the following note from Kate Worth (great author name, btw) and had to post it here. She has great suggestions. Thanks Kate!

    Hi Michelle,
    I enjoyed your blog. I’ve done the trick with the magazine photos for a while, but I like the concept of being your own casting director. The photos help me keep my hero and heroine clearly in focus. Along with the images, I fill in details regarding personality quirks and physical characteristics, eye color, height, etc… for consistency’s sake. Also, I tend to bounce back and forth between manuscripts, so it’s crucial in that respect, too.

    Was Flo from Alice the inspiration for Aunt Fifi?

    I subscribed to your blog.

    Kate Worth


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