Talent Casting: Audition Your Fiction Character

Selecting the talent. Casting the fiction characters of your story.Writing fiction is sometimes about finding the right talent, casting the right fiction character for the role, or creating a cast of rich and multi-dimensional personalities. There are a number of character creation methods and each writer learns their most effective character development tools through research and experience. My own process continues to grow and develop as my writing grows up.

Click here to get your copy of James Chartrand and Taylor Lindstrom's How to Create Believable CharactersA few months ago I bought myself a clever e-book called “How to Create Believable Characters” by James Chartrand and Taylor Lindstrom. It’s packed with practical information on how to build your very own fiction character, or role-playing alter-ego, from scratch. I read it eagerly, already fascinated with character development and creation.

As I read, I drank in every piece of advice it offered. I gained a better understanding of why I write the way I write and I improved my character creation skills. I learned how to choose and create talent; casting the “right” protagonist for each fiction story.

There are two “schools” when writing fiction. One is a “plot-driven” story where you develop an intense plot, a situation into which you place characters. I am in the other “school”, a writer who discovers a protagonist first and then writes a plot that gives that star her life and purpose. This is a ‘character-driven’ story. Can you think of any “character-driven stories” you’ve read recently?

Who is she?

When I first decide to write a new story, I visualize my heroine. Most of the time it’s a ‘she’, simply because I’m used to thinking like a girl. I do know female writers who prefer to write male characters (and do a fantastic job of it too) but for some reason I prefer writing women.

My heroine may be young or old, clever, stupid, pretty, dull… I spend some time trying to get to know her. I don’t decide ‘how she is’ instead, I get a feel for ‘who she is’.

Who is your protagonist?There are some elements I decide up front. Is she stubborn, or reckless, or depressed? I follow my instincts and she becomes whatever most sparks my interest at that time.

Other aspects come naturally as I continue to think about her. It might fit her to be afraid of dogs; maybe she is a school teacher. Does she have any particular talent casting her into the spotlight? Is she likely to go for the bad boy type, or does she prefer the office underdog. (Oh, perhaps she would usually go for the bad boy type but falls for the office underdog!)

Becoming Herself

After developing my protagonist’s traits and personality, I give my fiction character a life. Some of her past was determined earlier in the character creation process. Now it is time to explore her history and to decide what has happened to shape her into the person she is. Plot elements begin to emerge as her life takes form.

Here’s where it gets tricky. After the fun of writing, planning, and mapping out my heroine’s intriguing story, I notice aspects of her that no longer “fit”. As I focus on plot development I sometimes find that, this protagonist isn’t right for this plot.

Why not add that lacking ‘something’ to my original character? That would be the obvious and easy way to fix my dilemma, wouldn’t it? Couldn’t we force her to be what we want, gift her with that particular skill or talent? Casting her into a role that doesn’t suit her, however, is not a simple solution.

My characters become “real” the minute I start developing them, which means they have their own faults, traits, and personality. They are imperfect in a carefully balanced way – each and every one is unique.

Giving my heroine a new flaw or quality, just because the plot calls for it and not because it feels a part of her, causes her to lose that sense of being “real”. It makes her thin, stiff, two-dimensional; the organic creation process has been broken.

(There is of course another side to this. The needed flaw or quality could be a part of her in-story development or personal development goals… But that is for another post.)

It’s Talent Casting Time!

Now, I have this great story, all lined up for exploring and turning into a masterpiece, but my protagonist just isn’t right for the part. Do I scratch it and start over? No way!

I do a talent casting call.

I have tons of talent on hold that got dumped from other stories because they didn’t fit. Are any of them perfect for this role? If none of those characters are suitable, I think about which traits this protagonist needs and make that aspect a starting point for a new rising star.

By now I’ve changed the story several times and every time I do another call. I change the story a little for every character. After auditioning many people for the job they have all influenced the final story and add to it’s richness and depth.

Once I’ve my found leading lady, I can begin talent casting the supporting roles.

While this method can be time consuming in the early planning stages of fiction writing, the outcome is a full cast of strong characters I know and understand like old friends. They are the “right” characters for their specific role and are a good fit for the story. The writing process becomes easier because I’m no longer struggling with uncooperative, pigeon-holed characters. Now, when I’m writing fiction, I don´t “decide” my character likes or does things, I “know” she does.

The Final Curtain Call

In the end, my story becomes both plot-driven and character-driven. It is packed with a powerful selection of multi-dimensional, realistic personalities. The cast of characters live their own lives and I record it rather than control it.

Have you tried talent casting your characters? What other methods have you used to develop the star of your story?

Click here to get your copy of James Chartrand and Taylor Lindstrom's How to Create Believable Characters

Photo Credit: 01-12-10 © John-Francis Bourke
Photo Credit: 04-10-07 © Sean Locke

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With a background in all kinds of creative work, Thorey (Þórey) feels most comfortable when stretching reality to fit her over-active imagination. She was born in a tiny town in northern Iceland, raised in a small one and aspires to conquering the world one word at a time... Her first poetry was written down by her mother when she was too young to write herself. Since then, poems and short stories have been her way to express anything and everything. Other than that, she's studying to become a teacher and following two small children around the house.

12 thoughts on “Talent Casting: Audition Your Fiction Character”

  1. Great article. I also have That e-book. “How to create a believable character” It’s an awesome book and helps me to create a character fully and with that i also get to know my characters on a deeper level. Before I got it, I didn’t really have character that were complete. I was always missing something. Now I know my character pretty well before I even bring them into my books or role playing.

    I know when I create a character, sometimes when I start to play that character, they don’t turn out like I wanted at first. Sometimes their personality isn’t like I wrote it out to be in the beginning.

    But I love it, because it just proves to me that our character have a life and mind of their own. They go the way they want them too. This is one reason I love writing so much. You can develop a character and give them life but then they live their own life afterward. It’s awesome

    1. That’s just It, Tracy 🙂

      We pull them out from somewhere inside our head and the minute they hit the ground they start surprising us.

      It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, and this is something I didn’t realize completely until I tried collaborative writing. When we’re not in total control of all aspects of a story the characters take the lead!

      Thank you for reading and commenting!


  2. You’re welcome.

    And you know. I used to think writers were exaggerating when they said their characters have a mind of their own and they couldn’t make their characters do what they didn’t want to do.To me I was like, “You’re the write, Of course you can write what you want.”

    Well, we can to some point, but our characters aren’t always gonna agree with us. I found out first hand when I began playing the game. it surprised me actually. My first Character i remember well. I wanted her to do something but then, it was like, “No, that’s not her.” It was great and a complete surprise.

    I know I’ll never doubt writers again.

    1. Don’t stop doubting writers, we’re just people with pens and keyboards 😉

      But I know what you mean. It’s the idea of knowing “who” they are instead of “how” they are.

  3. I shouldn’t have said Doubt. It really wasn’t about doubting. It was more like I wondered if they were just exaggerating.

    But it was that I just never had the real experience of my characters coming to life like they do now. I’ve been a write just about all my life. But until I learned how to create my characters to the point where they are realistic and have personalities of their own, I never knew they could really come to life on the page like they do now.

    It’s a great feeling and now I really care how my characters are and I love playing characters with different personalities. I really love them to be complete opposites of who I am. Sure, that may require some research on my part but it’s really fun to play them in role playing.

  4. I think until you experience it you can honestly believe that writers are a bit “nuts”. lol The medical term for it is Schizophrenia. 😉 “Your characters are alive? They talk to you? They control their own actions? Just one moment please while I get you a straight jacket.” lol BUT, if you HAVE experienced it you realize that it really is very much like that. I think what keeps most of us out of the padded room is that the influence our character have is only on our work.

    I know when I cast the characters in my stories they seem to “fall into” their roles. I tend to be more of a “plot-driven” writer. I often start with the story-worthy problem. SOMETHING happens! And then I “look into” the scene to discover the personalities involved. I dig into them as the story evolves and come to know them in a very rich and real way.

    Sometimes, the character I have trouble getting to know a character that is there and usually when that happens I have to seriously consider if they’ve been mis-cast. Sometimes when I admit that this character isn’t right for the role or that character doesn’t have the depth of compassion needed for this scene I realize that either the character is not the right one for this story or that I’ve brought him into a scene where he doesn’t belong.

    I think it’s like “going to a friend to share your problems”. There are some friends you can talk to about marriage (because they’re married, either happily or unhappily) and some friends you can talk to about money (because they’ve got some or don’t) and there are some friends you can talk to about writing (because they’re writers), etc. If you went to a married non-writer friend and tried to talk about writing it wouldn’t “fit”, talking to a non-married writer about marriage doesn’t “fit” either. So while each of the characters fit their individual roles sometimes they don’t fit the individual scene and need to be switched out with one of the other characters in the story.

    1. I like how you describe your method of starting, Rebecca. It reminds me of looking at an interesting photograph or piece of art and then individual parts of it. Building a story and characters like that sounds, to me, like the three X’: Exploring, Experimenting and Expanding the concept. This is how I’d work when painting, if my inspiration came from an object, artwork or event.

      I also like how you take the concept of our characters being like old friends, a step further. I think your take on it is accurate. This is also the factor that makes us care so much about each protagonist.

      We *try* to fit them somewhere even if their original role didn’t fit. Just like with our actual friends… We know, or find out, a certain friend doesn’t add much to a conversation on marriage, so we change the subject.

      We don’t end the friendship or throw him out the door because he isn’t the person to talk to about our most pressing problem today… He might be, some other time. Right? Same as with our characters 😉

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