Mar 11, 2012

Casting Call: Characters Wanted

By Jennifer Debenham

I'm excited to make my debut as a blogger for ANWA Founder and Friends. And right now I'm living on a writer's high,having just finished a week-long seminar in St. George, given by fantasy writer David Farland (AKA David Wolverton). So naturally, I'm anxious to spread some of the golden gems.

In creating believable characters, it's great if we can make them more like real people. But if you're anything like me, you think of the character you want for your story, a list of character traits--physical and otherwise--and you basically cast someone PERFECT for the part. You've done your homework, though, and you've learned it's important for your hero to have a few less-than-perfect qualities too, so you throw in a couple of those for good measure.

However, often I find my characters' "flaws" are not the kind you can really sink your teeth into. Perhaps I love them too much and don't want to make them too uncomfortable in the world I've created for them.

Farland offers a fantastic exercise in kicking the complexity of your characters up a notch. And the best part is, you get to play with a most rewarding writer's tool. Your imagination.

So here goes:

Pretend you are a Hollywood director, sending out a Casting Call for the part of your character. (This works for minor characters and villains too!) Four characters show up for the call, but each of them is wrong for the part in some way.

The role calls for a handsome young man with a beautiful physique and great courage. But you've got one guy who's 45-years old and a little flabby around the middle. Another guy is 18 but looks like he's barely 14. He's skinny and has a face full of pimples. This guy wouldn't be able to hold a sword in two hands, let alone one. Maybe the third guy is the right age and physique, but he's got an alcohol problem. And the fourth guy is scared of his own shadow and hates violence.

You bring each of these fellows into your "office" one at a time and ask him why he should be considered for the role of _____________ in your story. Why are YOU better than any of these other guys? Their answers may surprise you. You may find that you like some of them so much you give them minor roles in your story. But before you leave the "office," you combine the negative qualities of TWO of these characters into one PROTAGONIST that already possesses some of the admirable qualities you have already decided upon. Now you have a greatly complex character.

All sorts of complexities of plot and theme can arise out of creating richer characters like this. And you may find you understand your character (villain too) better.

In other words, if you look for why your character is WRONG for the role, you're bound to create a character who is actually perfect.


  1. Great Post Jennifer! Welcome to the ANWA blog! How fun that you were able to attend that workshop! Thanks for sharing that great information!

  2. This is one of the drawbacks of living so far away from Utah. I never get to attend any of the great seminars! I bet your hand got cramps in it from your speed writing while taking notes. lol.

    Welcome to the ANWA blog, Jennifer! Thanks for sharing what you learned from David Farland/Wolverton. I think I make my characters too perfect. Throwing in deeper flaws is tough, but I'm trying harder this next time.

  3. Welcome Jennifer. Terrific post since I love fantasy and plan to write a YA one. I'm going to do this exercise.


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