Casting the Characters in Your Book

The pretty girl with the tastefully highlighted soft brown curls walked into my office and took a seat opposite my desk.

She was wearing a form-fitting knit dress with a hemline that rose up mercilessly when she crossed her shapely legs.

“Hello Marcy,” I said.

“Hi Boss. I heard you’re writing a sequel to Upgrade,” she said.

“Not a sequel. I’m just using some of the elements as a springboard for another book,” I explained.

“Will I be included?”

I sighed. This is the tough part. I like Marcy. She’s sexy and flirty and sassy, but I just don’t feel she’s right for this particular book. “It’s more of a spy-thriller, Marcy. I’m not sure you’d be a good fit.”

She had such a pretty pout. “Why not? Don’t spy novels have vixens?”

“Tell you what. I’ll think about it, okay? There may be a part for you. I need to see some other characters though. If I need you, I know where to find you.” I gazed past her at the waiting room now crowded with other hopeful characters. My boy wizard, the gunslinger, the red-winged blackbird, the pirate, the immortal, even some of the ones I’ve killed off were out there. They’re probably hoping for a prequel.

“All the good spy novels have a seductress in them,” Marcy said, without glancing up at me. She could tell I wasn’t focused on her. She began fiddling with the hem of her dress, showing a little more leg. I knew what she was doing, but I looked anyway. She has that kind of power.

“I’ll think about it, but it won’t be doing you any favors if I stick you into a story where you’re not a good fit. You’ll have to trust me,” I told her.

“All right Boss. You know best.” She left, stilettos clicking and hips swinging.

It’s a tough call, but the right one. You owe it to both your characters and your books to make the right decisions in casting. Good characters can still be a bad fit with some stories.

Think about your characters, their personalities, strengths and weaknesses. The one you loved in your romance may flounder in a police procedural. What kind of story is it? What kind of strength, moral imperative, flexibility, capabilities, inner reserve will your characters need? How much will they need to grow? How much damage will they have to sustain?

Don’t put your characters in over their heads just because you’re attached to them. Don’t use them as a crutch just because you are comfortable with them. The same goes for villains as well as protagonists. It will ring false to a reader if your character develops an entirely new set of traits and attributes. They can’t get away with that even in comic books.

Once you have taken the pains to render a character into flesh and blood, made them seem real to your readers, it is a sort of betrayal to change their essential nature. That doesn’t mean your characters can’t grow, learn, wear, toughen, etc. They do have to remain true to who you made them.

Sometimes you have to give a new kid a break. They’re out there somewhere in that big cast of characters in your head. Some of them may dwell in your short stories, waiting to be fully formed. Others may be ones you put aside and haven’t thought about in a while

I’m not saying it is impossible to cast against type, either. Sometimes that works really well. If you don’t make the right choices going in though, you’re looking at a lot of heartache or a lot of editing and re-writing.

Choosing the characters for your story is only a small part of the whole process, but it can make or break the book.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

16 thoughts on “Casting the Characters in Your Book”

  1. Right on. And unless you are writing a series where you HAVE to have some of the same characters you don’t want to bore your readers by having a sameness to your characters, even if you give them different names.

  2. It took me a long time to realize at some point early on there was a big bang of sorts for my works in progress. Some characters (and plot lines) roamed from one outline of a novel to the next, until the right combination coalesced. It’s taken years to sort some of them out, and some carefully thought out characters are waiting very, very patiently for their time to shine. But it’s worth it, I keep telling them…with so many books to write that cross several genres, I need to be sure all the elements are a perfect fit! πŸ™‚

  3. Good call. A ‘meh’ story with great characters trumps an great story with ‘meh’ characters. give me a good, relatable character, and I’m in, despite the story.

  4. Thanks for writing this! I have one character who wants desperately to make an appearance in my current WIP, which is not even remotely related to her original story. So your advice is a timely way to say no to her–or at least, not yet.

    1. Mine start out as a rough character sketch and develop as I write them. They get fleshed out by their dialogue, actions and thought processes.
      Mostly though, I mean when you consider using a character from a previous book, you kind of have to stick with the essentials of the character you created.

  5. Great post, Stephen. I’m sure that characters come about through many and varied modi operandi; mine arrive, just turn up usually, introduce themselves and then, as we get better acquainted, like in any relationship, they sometimes surprise me as they disclose more and more about themselves.

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