Casting your hero can be tricky. Is he right for the plot you have been mulling over for weeks? Will he like the heroine? Will she like him?
Over the next few months a number of writers have agreed to sit on my Casting Couch to discuss the different methods they use in their search for the characters who populate their books. Whether they use magazine advertisements, astrology, or something else entirely, their techniques give a fascinating insight into the writing process and the writers themselves
Today author Sydell Voeller joins us on the Casting Couch to share the tricks of her trade.
Thank you for agreeing to sit on the Casting Couch Sydell. It's always a treat to talk to a multi-published author and discover how she casts her characters. Assuming that you are sitting comfortably, let's begin.
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Which characters are the hardest for you to develop? Is it the hero, the heroine, the villain, or the secondary characters?
My secondary characters are usually the hardest to develop. Each one must forward the plot in some manner and interact significantly with the heroine and hero. In other words, if I can go through the script and eliminate a particular character or two and never miss them, then they didn’t belong in the story in the first place. I’ve sometimes found myself losing my story’s focus by allowing secondary characters to be present extraneously—but thankfully, I always catch that problem before my final drafts.
When an idea strikes, do you work through the plot first and then cast the characters, or is it characters first? Or does it vary? Perhaps you develop the plot and the characters together.
For the most part, I develop the plot and characters together. I typically begin my plotting by deciding what inner and outer conflicts will stand between the hero and the heroine—the core problem that will keep them apart until the story’s resolution. I try to dig deeply into their psyches to understand what makes them tick—their greatest dreams, their worst fears, their vulnerabilities, their goals and aspirations in life.
Can you give an example from a published story?
Yes. Take, for example, my latest re-released e-book Daisies Are Forever, published by Books We Love. The outer conflict was easy in this case. April Heatherton, my heroine, is not only interested in local history and teaches history at school, but she has a special interest in the ancient forests that define the North West. Behind her home stands a tract of timber containing an unmarked pioneer woman’s grave. Heather learns that this forested site will soon be going up for a logging auction. Heather is fired up to stage a peaceful demonstration against the loggers in order to preserve the grave. The hero, Matt Spencer, is a hard-working logger—and in this day of increasing displaced loggers, he needs to keep working.
The inner conflict, on the other hand, is more personal, much deeper. It portrays our characters’ drives, dreams, motivations, and emotional needs. For years, the unmarked grave has provided a special place for April—a place of retreat and personal renewal, plus an indirect connection to her grandmother. In her eyes, losing it would be akin to losing her soul. Matt’s inner conflict, on the other hand, smacks of family and commitment, continuing the tradition set down for him by his father and grandfather. After all, logging is Matt’s legacy.
When deciding how your characters should look, do pictures inspire you or do you think of someone you know? Or perhaps you just rely on an active imagination or another method entirely.
In the earlier years of my writing career, especially when I was writing YA fiction, I often used pictures to draw inspiration for portraying my characters. Later after I branched off into adult contemporary romances, I used a combination of both pictures and my own imagination.
Do you have a system for developing their character traits? I know some people use Tarot or Astrology. Others produce detailed life histories. There are also writers who allow their characters to develop as they write. What's your method?
I have tried using Astrology at one time, but I didn’t stick with that. I guess I felt I had to squeeze my character into too tight a mold, or perhaps that method just didn’t resonate with me for other reasons. But to answer your question more specifically, (and as I said earlier), I know my character’s basic traits by first determining his or her core conflicts. I’m always delighted, though, when my character’s behavior takes new twists and turns. Real people are contradictions and so should our characters portray contradictions as well.
All characters have goals. Can your characters’ goals usually be summed up in a word or two, or are they multi-layered? Do they change as you write the book? Could you give some examples?
Most of my characters’ goals can be summed up in a phrase or two, or maybe one sentence. And yes, sometimes the goals change out of necessity. For example, in Her Sister’s Keeper, published by Books We love, my heroine, Logan, is determined to care for and protect her little sister, Kim, who is wheel-chair bound. (Prior to the opening of the story, Kim was partially paralyzed due to the plane accident that not only caused her disability, but killed their mother as well.) Since their father is no longer alive, Logan must now step up to the plate and assume full responsibility for her sister. Yet despite her good intentions, Logan’s goals are misconstrued and she becomes overly protective, thus indirectly sabotaging Kim’s chances for rehabilitation. By the end of the story, Logan must redefine her goals in order to give Kim her best chance for recovery—plus allow Logan her best chances for a romantic commitment to the handsome young Dr. Dellinger with whom she works.
Motives drive a character. How do you discover your characters’ specific motivations? Are they based on back-story or do other elements influence their motives?
I believe back story has everything to do with motive. In taking another look at Her Sister’s Keeper, the back-story about the plane crash motivates Logan to protect her sister against further traumas. And on a broader scope, in most traditional romance stories, the core motivator that threatens to keep the heroine and hero apart stems from their individual back-stories. Perhaps their demons are divorce, the death of a spouse, a broken engagement, or having been stood up at the altar. What better motivators to make our heroines and heroes turn and run!
And last but not least, do you like your characters? Are they people you would want to spend time with? Assuming they are not just a paper exercise, which of your characters would you most like to meet, and why?
Yes, I do indeed like my characters, and I strive to create characters my readers will like and care about as well. In regards to which characters I’d like to meet, that’s a tough one. I do know for sure, however, that I’d like to meet my heroine Lisa Prentice in Summer Magic, also published by Books We Love. During her travels with the circus, she encounters so many fascinating adventures involving the performers-especially the dashing young aerialist Michael-and the circus animals, including Ebony, her favorite show horse. Logan’s widespread travels with the circus also add to her appeal as a character. I’m sure she could share with me many intriguing tales that reach far beyond the story itself!
My next favorite character is Vanessa Paris, my heroine in The Fisherman’s Daughter, another of my BWL titles. I like her intelligence, spunk, flirtatiousness, strength of spirit, and especially her strong dedication to helping to find her father who is missing at sea. Finally, since I love any kind of reunion romance, I like her push-pull attraction to the hero whom she had a crush on in high school, and her misgivings about falling for him again. On the balance, I think she’d be a delightful character to hang out with!
Sydell Voeller writes contemporary romance and Young Adult fiction