Books We Love author Margaret Tanner is the first of the writers who have agreed to sit on my Casting Couch in 2013. As she mostly writes about the tough, hard men who lived in frontier Australia, it is interesting to discover how she 'finds' them, and what she expects them to endure. Margaret's take on working with her characters is as challenging as the characters themselves, and it is fascinating to discover that she prefers tortured heroes with dark secrets.
Happy New Year and thank you for agreeing to sit on the Casting Couch Margaret. It’s always a treat to talk to a multi-published author and discover how she casts her characters so, assuming 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?
The secondary characters by far. I love a villain, the blacker the better. My heroes are always tortured men with dark secrets.
I'd love to know the psychology behind that choice Margaret! Do these tortured characters start the story for you or do you work through the plot first and then cast the characters later?
I usually have a basic plot first, then the characters grab me by the throat and won’t let go until I write their story.
Wow, they certainly are strong and tortured men aren't they! Can you give an example from a published story?
'Savage Possession' is a good example. Two feuding families. I thought of what would happen if a man got the chance to take his revenge against the daughter (in this case the granddaughter) of his mortal enemy, only to discover that the hatred he had carried around in his heart for years was based on a lie.
That sounds like a very insightful story and one I want to read. 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?
I rely on an active imagination, but my characters have to be amenable to all the torture and drama I plan to put them through before they get to their 'Happy Ever After.'
You really do like them to be tough don't you! Do you have a system for developing their character traits? I know some people use Tarot or Astrology while others produce detailed life histories. There are also writers who allow their characters to develop as they write. What's your method?
I don’t do any of the things you mention. I somehow get an image in my mind and I work with that. If I close my eyes I can actually see my characters in the flesh, so to speak.
Can their 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?
I couldn’t let my main characters get away with just one goal as it would be too easy for them. So, I guess I would have to say they are multi-layered. Most of my heroes are tough, hard men. As I write historical romance set in frontier Australia, they have to be tough to tame a rugged, hostile land. It is the heroine’s influence that eventually softens them.
I'm so relieved to see a little softness creeping in at last! How do you discover your character’s specific goals? Are they based on back story or do other elements influence their motives?
I think they are mostly based on the back story, but the environment in which they live plays a big part as well. Frontier Australia, like frontier America, wasn’t for weaklings. Only the strong survived.
Times were certainly different then, as shown by the characters you write about, so, last but not least, do you like them? Are they people you would want to spend time with?
I love all my main characters. I wouldn’t be able to write them if I didn’t. They take over my mind, become my friends until their story is done, then they let go of me and ride off into the sunset so I can start on a new story with new characters.
That is so fascinating Margaret. As someone who regularly visits Sydney and enjoys the wonderful lifestyle of modern-day Australians, I definitely need to search out of some of those rugged and fearless men you write about if only to remind myself how hard life used to be on the frontier all those years ago.
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