Once in a while, you get lucky and a fully-formed character knocks on your door, and invites him or herself into your story. Most of the time, characters are shifting, shadowy forms which are harder to pin down. They change shape as your story unfolds often altering the entire plot with their antics.
When this happens, you have two choices; stop writing (which you never want to have to do) until you flesh out that character using a character sheet, and lock that guy or gal into place. Or continue writing to see where the story goes and what happens (which could lead to a great deal more editing and revising later).
Characters are vital to your storyline. Their decisions are what shape your plot. If you have a character acting in a way that isn’t true to who they are, it can render your story unbelievable. You need a character you can see in your mind. One that is real to you so you can bring him or her to life for your reader. Sometimes a character sheet simply isn’t enough.You need a model.
I discovered this character-building shortcut while writing The Minstrel’s Tale. I call it story casting. I decided to cast the characters just as they do in the movies. I had only a vague idea for the minstrel, Amos Questerly, when I began writing. I knew very little about him. He was a man of the fourteenth century, he wore a patched cloak with hidden pockets, and he told stories. I didn’t know how old he was, what he looked like, or any of his mannerisms.
I asked myself if this were a movie, who would I cast in the role of Amos Questerly? I closed my eyes for a few minutes and imagined several well-known actors in the role. I listened to their voices, watched how they moved, and finally found the perfect Amos in one of my favorite actors.
Patrick Stewart is probably best known for his role as Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He has a distinctive voice, with a slight French accent. He was in his forties, bald, strong and healthy. He was the perfect template for Amos. Once I made the decision to model Amos after him, I could actually hear his voice in my head as I wrote the story.
The ability to completely visualize Amos made writing so easy, it almost felt as if I were merely transcribing instead of creating. Don’t get me wrong, Amos is not Patrick Stewart. He is a unique character with his own thoughts and mannerisms, but having Patrick as a model, helped me to know Amos in a way I couldn’t have done with only a character sheet.
If you get stuck, choose an actor or television character that best captures the essence of the individual you are trying to create. Use him or her as guide for your own character. Have fun and change hair or eye color, height or weight, speech patterns, mannerisms, make him evil or make her angelic, you can change anything you like. By having a ready-made person as a starting point, making slight alterations is easier than starting from scratch.