Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Casting The Characters In Your Story

More than likely, you may already have a story idea in your mind, perhaps you have even started putting your ideas to paper. Quite possibly, you have already decided where you would your story to take place, you may even have an idea of how you would like your story to end. But as we all know, characters are what makes a story.

Without characters there is no story.

You can have the most devised plot, comprise the most exotic of settings, but without well developed characters that your reader can sympathize with, and care enough about to continue reading throughout the pages of your story, then the talent of your writing will be wasted.

Always think of your reader, because they will be investing a lot of time with the primary characters introduced in the beginning of your story, it is imperative that these characters capture your reader's attention, so that they will want to spend time becoming further acquainted with these characters.

If the reader does not feel any sort of interest or connection to the primary characters within a story, chances are they will not feel compelled to finish reading your characters' story.

One of the best ways to make sure that this does not happen, is is to make sure that your characters are well-developed, containing no inconsistencies that would take away from the accredibility of your character.

(Now for the fun part) Let's begin the exciting task of casting the characters that will appear throughout the pages of your manuscript. (In my opinion, this is one of the most enjoyable task of the creative process)

In this post, we will explore the differences between casting the roles of your Primary Characters versus creating the roles of the Incidential Characters that will appear throughout your story.

Casting The Roles Of Your Primary Characters:

These characters are normally the people you introduce in the opening chapters of your story. Remember, your primary characters must appear throughout your story.

(Writer's Hint: It is normally a good idea to do a "Character Profile" for each of these primary characters. By creating a Character Profile, it can cut down on a lot of confusion later. Please see my July article, "Breathing Life Into Your Characters" for a sample Character Profile Checklist)

There are several benefits to having a character profile checklist:

For example, you don't want to include in a passage on page 5 of your story that your heroine has dark brown eyes and then drop a hint on page 45 that the heroines' eyes are as blue as the ocean.

Also, by having a character profile checklist at your fingertips for easy reference it can cut down on a lot of confusion, as well as wasted time combing through a finished manuscript making sure there are no inconsistencies.

Casting The Roles Of Your Incidential Characters:

I like to think of "Incidential Characters" as "extras" used in a movie. "Incidential Characters" should be used to advance your story, to teach your primary character an important lesson, and/or give them information needed in order to advance your plot line. Although it is generally good to know a few facts about your incidential characters, normally a full character profile is not necessary. Often, incidential characters will not even have a name.

(Writer's Hint: I usually like to create a condensed version of the Primary character profile for my incidential characters. Normally detailed information included on the character profile for a primary character is not necessary for an incidential character, but by including basic facts usually proves helpful in the development of the incidential character.)

Below, is an example of how an incidential character can advance your plot line by teaching your primary character an important lesson, offering helpful advice, or giving helpful information.

Example: Hilliary (OUR PRIMARY CHARACTER) is heart-broken. Sadly, the Christmas holiday season is proving to be anything but joyous this year. Not only has she recently broken up with her fiance, but just this morning due to cutbacks has received notice that her job will be phased out by the end of the year. Distraught and lonely, she opts to go to the corner cafe, temporarily postponing the loneliness of returning to her sparsely furnished apartment alone.

Seated at a window booth, she stares out past the bright, flashing neon sign, across to the Christmas tree farm set up across the street, watching the sidewalks filled with people rushing past, many carrying their Christmas purchases. Filled with self pity, and quite confused as to what steps she should take next to get her life back on track, she discovers the inspiration that she desperately needs.

Her inspiration comes in the form of a big-haired, gum chewing waitress, whose dark circles outline the strain of pulling a double-shift. (THIS WAITRESS IS OUR INCIDENTIAL CHARACTER) This incidential character detects Hilliary's despair, and after pouring her a steaming cup of coffee, she takes the time to offer kind words and encouraging advice, convincing Hillary that her problems are not the end of the world, that things will get better.

Now, the reader is only given minute details about this waitress: Dark circles hinting that she's tired, complains about always having to work the night-shift, big-haired, gum chewing, and perhaps her name is embroderied on her uniform. But the point is that a full description is not needed for this character. This character's sole purpose in the story is to encourage our primary character Hillary to "pull herself up by her boot strings" so to speak, and get on with her life. Furthermore, as a result of this chance meeting, the story advances from Hillary feeling sorry for herself, and dreading the holiday season, to eventually within the next chapter, finding the courage and motivation that she needs to go on with her life and push past the boundaries separating her from true happiness.

This is the difference between primary characters and incidential characters. Primary characters will be used throughout your story; whereas, Incidential characters are placed in sporadically for the purpose of moving your primary characters forward in the plotline.

However, please note that Primary characters can be used to move your plot forward as well. (Example, Hero teaches Heroine to love and trust again)(Heroine teaches hero to let go of painful past)However, primary characters are seen throughout your story, incidential are not seen throughout the story's entirety.


Remember, casting the roles of your characters can be a very enjoyable part of the creative process. Enjoy!

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