Do you ever feel like a casting director when it comes to finding characters? You know what kind of a character you need but just can’t make him or her work. When that happens to me, it may mean I haven’t developed the personality enough, but more often, it’s because I can’t see him or her in my head.
For major characters, I have to see them as clearly as I do my family. Then I can get under their skin and know their personalities and motivations like my own.
The physical appearances affects the character’s personality. If I can’t get that right, the character doesn’t work. I get the same feeling when I am watching a show and I don’t buy the character because the actor is miscast in the role. As author, I can’t make just any character work in any role.
In my YA novel, I knew I wanted Junior, my main character, to have a fifteen-year-old brother Merritt. Merritt needed to be optimistic and easy-going to contrast with Junior’s worry-prone, intellectual personality.
Originally, I imagined Merritt as slim, blond, with a sparse mustache, But with those looks, he kept changing into a nervous, eager-to-please character, like his cousin Gabe. I couldn’t have two characters with the same personality. But I couldn’t force Merritt to be what I wanted, either, even though he was imagined.
So I changed his appearance. Merritt is still fifteen and thin, but now he’s half-European, half-Native American with shaggy black hair and midnight blue eyes. And he behaves like an easy-going optimist. I also like his ethnic background because it reflects the melting pot culture of America.
Why this change works, I can’t say. But when other characters have been problems, it is often because I don’t have an appearance that jives with their personality. The two must mesh for me to write about him or her comfortably.
How do you cast the characters of your stories? Or what do you do with a character that won’t behave?