Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Audition Your Cast of Characters

Pride and Prejudice photo, from Amazon.com
(any excuse to post a picture of Mr. Darcy)

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress, is loaded with great advice about...well, characters, emotion, & viewpoint! One of the cool tips is to assemble the players we've thought of for the next book, and then make them work for their roles.

I learned the main character can't just waltz into a novel, assuming she's the best person to tell the story. What if her older sister captures more passion? (Jane's story instead of Elizabeth's? No!) What about the love interest? Would he be the best person to ignite the author's creativity? (Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view...deliciously different)

Kress's solution to the "whose line is it anyway" dilemma? Audition these players, and see whose viewpoint would provide the best story. She suggests we ask the following questions when choosing our star:

  • "Am I genuinely interested in this character?"-- If we're constantly thinking about this person, inventing backstory, dialog, and character traits, there's a good chance this person would work well as the lead.
  • "Is this character or situation fresh and interesting in some new way?" -- This is where we can add a twist to a structured mystery, or choose the unlikely hero of our story. If my idea surprises me, I'm hopeful it'll surprise readers.
  • "Can I maintain enough objectivity about this character, combined with enough identification, to practice the triple mind-set--becoming author, character, and reader as I write?" -- This was another great lesson I learned from Kress's book, and I blogged about it here.
  • "Do I want this character to be a stayer or a changer?" -- Kress points out that some of our favorite characters have "stayed," such as James Bond, meaning his basic character is unchanged throughout the story. Other favorite characters have "changed," and by the end of the story, they were completely different people (Mr. Darcy!). If we want our main character to be a "changer," which person in our cast has the greatest capacity for change?
This advice is great for me, because I normally think of plot first, and then character. This taught me to choose my main character wisely, because he or she will determine which story will be told. My next book is formulating in my head now, and the characters best be ready for a casting call.

How about you? How do you choose who will play your main character, and who will play supporting roles? Do you create plot first, or character?

35 comments:

  1. I never thought of it this way...auditioning our characters. Great questions to ask about our characters! I think I will have a casting call on my next book.

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    1. Loree, this really hit home for me, because with my next book, I can decide whose story I want to tell. Hopefully I'll be able to figure it out by auditioning them.

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  2. Really cool idea for fleshing out a story concept. I usually start with just one character and a big idea, but the idea of starting with a cast and building the idea is very intriguing, and I think it might fun, too. :)

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    1. E.J., Kress gave great examples of how different points of view totally changes the story. Like a murder mystery...is it the maid who should narrate? The spoiled grandson? The cat? So many fun possibilities, and so many different ways it could go.

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  3. I'm going to have to try this, because sometimes a minor character seems to have a much better personality.

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    1. Catherine, I totally agree. I'm formulating this next book, and a minor character might be the perfect person to tell the story. But I'm not sure. That's why I really liked this idea.

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  4. What a neat approach. I'm fiddling around with the beginning of a new story too. I realized I was off track last night - off to audition some characters to see what's up! :)

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    1. Jemi, I'm totally doing this too! I can't decide who should tell the next story, so I thought this was a cool way to figure it out BEFORE I write it. Good luck with your auditions :)

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  5. Wonderful thoughts here. I like the stayer or the changer advice. I don't often know if I'm going to keep a character or not when I start writing. I think it would be good to plot that out next time. Thanks!

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    1. Emily, I had never thought of "changer" or "stayer." I thought all characters changed! But James Bond was a great example.

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  6. I love characters that are enjoyable and fun to read. I don't want to feel like reading a certain book is a chore. This is great advice for aspiring authors!

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    1. Great characters are what makes me enjoy great books. Now, to write them... :)

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  7. I'd love to get into Darcy's head for a little while!

    Lately whenever I'm stuck I've been doing a little exercise, switching to another character's POV just to freshen things up. Does wonders even if I don't end up using it directly.

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    1. Margo, that's such a great idea! I think I'll steal...er, borrow that :)

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  8. Auditioning characters, what a cool idea! Sometimes the story comes to me first, sometimes the character does. I've never thought about who's story it should be though. That part just always comes organically. This is an interesting idea though!

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    1. Heather, that's great that it comes to you organically. I'll bet that shines through in your work!

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  9. I tend to work out plot before character, even if my original inspiration/idea is of a person with certain traits.

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    1. Me too...totally plot first. I'm learning so much more about character though!

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  10. Sounds like a great book. And you had me at Mr. Darcy...*sigh*

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    1. Methinks I need to watch P&P again. Too bad you live so far away. Candy and Darcy galore...how cool would that be?

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  11. Was there something else in this post except for Mr. Darcy? Kidding. I'm easily distracted. I lead with character and then have that pesky task of coming up with something interesting for them to do. This book sounds cool. I'm due for a good craft book read. Thanks.

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    1. Well, you do an awesome job of putting your character through the ringer!

      This book has lots of good nuggets for character work. I'm learning a lot!

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  12. Thank you so much for this great information. I absolutely love reading your lessons learned because I am always able to apply what you say to my work. And characters it is. Thank you!

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    1. Karlene, thank YOU! I have so much to learn, but it's fun to read craft books that give me many lightbulb moments :)

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  13. I usually get blessed with characters who just won't leave me alone and then build the cast around them. Sometimes the original I had in mind to "play" the character doesn't turn out to be who I go with in the end.

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    1. Oooh, that's totally interesting. So your original lead sometimes becomes second string? I'm wondering if that's what will happen with my next book, once they go through the interview process.

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  14. I did a post of characters who I thought could play the roles of my characters. Its fun to do this and helps to visualize the scenes as you write them.

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  15. These are good questions to ask. I've heard people worried that a seemingly minor character took over the story. Though I have to wonder if Jane Austin interviewed her characters.

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  16. That's such a great book. I usually go with my initial ideas for characters as they come to me; the writing process often changes things though!

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  17. I tell you what, asking myself if X is interesting to me has always been the BEST way to be sure I'm not getting off track with either story or characters.

    Of course, sometimes it doesn't really always work. Because I tend to get bored w/too much description, etc. So then I try to skimp, and then I get to "rushing" the pace. But it's a good place to start!

    Thanks, Julie! :o)

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  18. These are great questions to ask. As for which comes first, plot or character, for it it's a little of both. I might have a partial idea of a character and then they reveal themselves in the plot. When they become more established in my mind, they start driving the plot.

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  19. I love this. I just ran through the questions with the MC for my new WIP and she passes the test. Yay!

    Good luck on your new project!

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  20. Julie - I smiled when I saw the Pride and Prejudice cover photo...knowing what a fan you are of that book! I agree; the main character drives the plot. I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that we don't devise a plot and just hitch a character on for the ride. It is the character's story. It should blossom from the character's personality and history. Thanks, Julie!

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  21. Such great advice! I think you may have just answered your own question... I best find you just as good of an answer!

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