If you know me and my experience as a writer, you know I started as an aspiring screenwriter. Movies, television, visual mediums of all kinds have been a passion of mine since a very young age. So it should come as no real surprise that I’ve retained that passion and adjusted it accordingly for writing novels.
In most cases, each of my book concepts start with the germ of a character. Something quirky about them draws me to wanting to develop them further, and before I know it … I’m lost in imagining what kind of trouble they’ll stir up, how their fish-out-of-waterness will have them reacting to certain situations, what kind of person might offset their personality in an interesting way. Before that phase is complete, I’ve almost always “cast them” in my mind by choosing an actor/actress to play the part as I’m dreaming up their storyline.
While I’ve never been a real fan of character profiles – pages and pages of questions to answer about people I haven’t fully drawn in my own mind yet – I do find that a storyboard is helpful. I usually use a white board in my office to post those casting photos and make general shorthand notes. For instance, here’s an example of what I created while writing the Jessie Stanton series.
|STORYBOARD: JESSIE STANTON SERIES - SANDRA D. BRICKER|
As novelists, it is our responsibility to take the reader from shadowy sketch to clear identification with the character on the page. And yet how many times have entertainment headlines reflected outrage of eager viewers when a casting decision has been made that failed to resonate with their impression of a beloved character? Ben Affleck as Batman? Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones? Never mind acting abilities! These were not the faces in the minds of moviegoers. While this sort of thing is certainly regrettable for filmmakers hoping to round up those entertainment dollars by cashing in on commitment to translating the written word to the big screen, it speaks to the adeptness of those authors who created the original material.
Imagine the repercussions if actress Kaley Cuoco, for instance, had been cast as Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy instead of Penny on The Big Bang Theory. Even though Kaley’s acting prowess might have allowed her to suitably characterize Amy in her own way, Mayim Bialik – through wardrobe, makeup, facial expression, and the like – personifies Amy Farrah Fowler in every subtle way. Viewers can’t imagine anyone else playing Amy, which is what we aim for in creating characters on the written page as well.
In the original draft of Star Wars, the character of Han Solo was scripted as a green-skinned alien. It wasn’t until the third draft that visionary George Lucas decided to morph Han into “a tough, James Dean-style starpilot about twenty-five years old. A cowboy in a starship—simple, sentimental and cocksure of himself.” Try for a moment to imagine Star Wars without that dramatic revision to one of its most beloved characters.
When I’ve conducted workshops for authors about characterization, one of the exercises attendees have found particularly helpful is one that helps them define a main character by avoiding physical stereotypes while still relying on the general nuances of appearance.
Have a look at these two people:
Now use your visual imagination to define character distinctions, quirks, etc. of each of them. Ask yourself about their details. Where are their hometowns? What do they do for a living? Give each of them a unique character trait, habit, or vice. Explore their greatest fears, their moral/ethical beliefs, and their greatest passions in life.
After doing so for the first set of main characters, repeat the exercise for this second set of actors:
When you’re finished, they are sure to be very different. And if they're not, go a little deeper. Ask yourself why.
So now it's your turn to weigh in on this subject. What are YOUR secrets to creating memorable and unique characters?
SANDRAD. BRICKER was an entertainment publicist in Los Angeles for 15+ years where she attended school to learn screenwriting and eventually taught the craft for several semesters. When she put Hollywood in the rear view mirror and headed across the country to take care of her mom until she passed away, she traded her scripts for books, and a best-selling, award-winning author of Live-Out-Loud fiction for the inspirational market was born. Sandie is best known for her Another Emma Rae Creation and Jessie Stanton series for Abingdon Press, and she was also recently named ACFW’s Editor of the Year for her work as managing editor of Bling!, an edgy romance imprint for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. As an ovarian cancer survivor, Sandie also gears time and effort toward raising awareness and funds for research, diagnostics and a cure.
Connect with Sandie:
Author website: http://sandradbricker.com/
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