|Your characters will be going from flabulous to fabulous!|
Step One: Who’s in Charge of Casting?
As the writer you get to choose who plays what part; so don’t settle. You know how they should act and how they should look, so make it happen.
In the winter of 1996 I was working on an independent film. I had written the script and was producing the project. I had done a lot of hard work to put together a good creative team to make it a reality. We had locations secured, equipment ready, a killer script in hand (did I mention that I wrote the script?) and we were taking our time casting the parts.
For the part of the antagonist we had narrowed it down between two women. One was a complete new comer to acting but she had the look I wanted and I knew we could work with her to get up to stuff on the acting portion. The other had been in a few wide release films and would certainly handle acting well, but she didn’t look the part.
It was a mismatch that didn’t feel right for me. My director on the other hand wanted the woman with the SAG card; he felt it added more clout to our little project. But I was the producer and had put this entire project together so naturally we went with the woman who had the SAG card.
That’s what I love about writing. I don’t have to play nice or think about clout. I can create who I want and if I begin to let the outside voices (which might be coming from my own mind) start to change a character in the wrong way I can say, “Screw you, this is my project, my vision and it’s going to be done how I see it.”
Step Two: Eye Patches are so 1999
All characters should be memorable because of who they are not what they are wearing. The same goes for how they walk, talk, chew gum, etc.
Now if you have an eye patch wearing, limp walking, backwards talking, woman who chews her gum with her mouth closed and blows bubbles out her left nostril don’t bother reading this because that character is awesome.
Seriously though you want people to remember your characters because what they do, not what they wear.
In the Harry Potter series JK Rowling created a character that has a magical eye, fake leg and uses a staff to walk with but those are just additions. The real reason people remember him is how he interacts with other characters. As you read the pages you see the traits that make him a great character.
One of the simplest ways to make your character more memorable is with my 2:1 ratio of good/bad traits. Remember that no one is all good or all bad and this keeps them interesting.
For example: your protagonist is brave, tells the truth, but sneaks off to seedy bars to take place in illegal cat juggling.
Step Three: He Said What?
Take the time to write out a conversation with your character to learn how they sound and what type of word choices they use.
When I first started writing I knew my dialogue sucked. I knew this because people told me. I’m sure I felt the same way George Lucas felt when people told him the same thing. The difference is I listened.
I became conscious that all of my characters talked the exact same way that I did.
I am not a person who lived a sheltered life. I lived in different places, met unique individuals, and had good exposure to a world outside of my own. I just wasn’t paying attention.
You need to have an understanding of who your character is. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is by having a conversation with your character. Simply take out a blank page of paper or open a new file and begin to ask your character questions. Think of it as meeting them for the first time.
Go so far as to picture the setting. Is your conversation taking place in your home, over coffee, or walking down a crowded bazaar in Amman?
How does your character interact in this environment? How does your character sound?
If you are having trouble hearing anyone but yourself, take the time to talk to people from different walks of life. A great place to do this is at a farmers market, trust me.
By using these three simple steps you will create characters that pop off the page and remain ingrained in your reader’s minds long after they have put down your book.