Casting your story

Character is the cornerstone of any story. For me, casting my character list is a huge part of the writing and character creation process. To do so effectively means I’ll have more inspiration than I can sometimes handle when I’m writing, but this is a great way to stave off writer’s block.

So, how do you effectively cast your script? I’ll share a few tips:

Online searches

Everything from generalized descriptions like ‘blond female model’ or ‘middle-aged male athlete’ to something more specific like the name of a celebrity, model, sports figure or politician.

These searches can prove to be fruitful and may even inspire new characters or descriptions.


It’s worth starting a file for pictures found in magazines, newspapers, or through other sources. You may need this file for inspiration later when you’re writing.

Keeping separate files for male or female leads might be wise, but I honestly just throw them all into one file and deal with them later when I’m ready to actually cast a specific piece.

Movies/ television/ news/ music industry

Any of these can offer great options for casting your characters. Surprisingly, it doesn’t limit my writing when I do this. Even if you’re a big fan of an actor or musician’s work for instance, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to see them in the role you’re casting them in. It might even mean you are more capable of doing so because you’re familiar with their work and quirks.

And further…

You don’t need to narrow it down to the ‘one’ for each role. I often create a document where I cut and paste different pictures for the moods of each character and the situations in which they might find themselves. While I may imagine one person or picture more than the others when writing, all tend to be valuable to my process.

Think outside the box when it comes to ‘casting’ your story. There’s no need to limit yourself to only searching celebrities or even well-known entities. Any picture can be a help when writing. There isn’t a right/ wrong answer here. Whatever inspires you is what you need to write.

Go for it! Cast your story now!

Happy writing!

Character creation 101: Banning ‘Magic Mike’ in favor of heroes with real drive

So I foolishly made the mistake of letting my friends talk me into going to see Magic Mike when it came out in the theaters.

It will bMagic-Mike-Movie-Postere funny, they said.

But I wasn’t laughing.

And it probably wasn’t for the reasons you might be thinking.

Sure, the plot was stupid, the action tasteless, and the humor raunchy. I’m fairly certain all of that goes without saying (and it wasn’t surprising). But what struck me more than anything else was that the film actually had a chance to make a point, but it never bothered to come close to going where it should have.

And it was a problem that—given better writing—could have easily been solved and made the film more than tolerable. It might even have been good.

So what was the problem? Where did this pinnacle of cinematic excellence (please, I’m being sarcastic) go wrong? Sadly, it’s the same place many writers lose the audience.

The problem is that a number of novelists and screenwriters falsely believe that it is enough for their heroes be one dimensional. OK- maybe they don’t set out to do this, but they get so wrapped up in the plot that they fail to recognize the important role a multi-dimensional character plays in the success of the film or novel. Writers who struggle in this area often have characters who think their readers or audience will be satisfied by a hero who is in love with the girl, wants the job, or is just plain cute.

Not so fast.

Think about it- does a man only want to ‘get the girl’ in real life? Even the most smitten man has priorities and drives beyond—or at least in addition to—finding love.

Narratives that fall into such a problem fail to develop a rich story or believable characters. In the case of ‘Magic Mike’ for instance, the chance for a great narrative was squandered in favor of following a character the audience is supposed to believe has been forced to take his clothes off for a living so that he might –someday- be able to follow his ‘real’ dream of woodworking and making furniture. This might have worked if the audience saw him even once working in his wood shop. Realistically though, to make this narrative believable, the audience would need to see, feel, and believe that without the ability to create, Mike would wither away and die.

But novelists suffer this problem too. Many writers spend ample time leading the audience to believe the hero lives magically (pun intended, we’re looking at you Mike)- and solely- on the drive to get together with the heroine of the story, failing to recognize that even the most smitten man sometimes has to go to work, engage with family or friends, or even develop hobbies, skills, or education that in no way relate directly to the woman for whom he pines.

The answer to this flat-character dilemma isn’t so simple. In my experience the only real way around it is spending time on the front end of your writing project developing the hero’s backstory. He must be fully formed (with a past full of LIFE) in order for the audience to be sympathetic to his dilemma.

So, what is it that makes your hero real?

Some great resources for answering this question exist. See the end of this post for links to some of them. But for now, here are some questions that might help:

  • What does the hero do in his spare time? Hobbies?
    • What is he an expert at?
  • What comes easily for the hero? Why?
  • What does he hate to do? What is he allergic to? What is he bad at?
  • Has the character been trained in any way (college, military, technical school)? What was this experience like for him? How does it influence him today?
  • What are his vices? Favorite things? (think Oprah- make a list!)
  • What is his family life like? With whom in his family does he interact on a regular basis?
    • Friends? What do they do together for fun?
  • Habits? (dining out, church/ ministry, clubs, etc.)
  • What goals does he have? How does he plan to achieve these goals?
    • How does the love interest support/ conflict with these goals?
  • What do the hero and heroine have in common?
    • How are they different?
  • What does the hero not want to do (but keeps doing anyway)? What is in the hero’s past that he wishes he could escape?

I could go on for days with questions such as these. In essence, if you look around at your friends, family, and colleagues, what makes them who they are? What makes them do what they do on a daily basis? While I don’t recommend pulling too much actual information from these sources, allow them to inspire you to see parallels within your characters’ lives so one dimension quickly becomes a fully-formed individual.

Once you’ve worked your way through some or all of the above questions, you will need to weave them organically into the story—let the answers influence your character and give him personality—and more to talk or pursue beyond his love interest, career, or other story goal.

Here’s a short list of some resources that might be helpful in your backstory creation. (Note: don’t be afraid to apply any or all of this information to side characters, love interests, and villains as well).

What are some ways you make your characters more believable? How do you give characters goals and depth? Feel free to comment below. And as always, happy writing!

Shh… listening to learn dialogue

It’s tremendously frustrating to be in the thick of reading a great novel only to become stuck when the dialogue doesn’t ring true. Bad dialogue can ruin the emotional impact of a great scene and draw attention to itself that means your reader is no longer invested in the story, but instead is concerned with the way your writing has strayed from reality.

Today, I’d like to give you a few tips for writing effective, natural, excellent dialogue:

  • Listen to the way people actually speak-
    • This doesn’t mean you have to write with all the fillers like ‘uh, um, well,’ etc. What it means is that you should pay attention to the word choices people make. For instance, how often do people actually refer to one another by name? If you listen to conversations in real life, you may notice it isn’t that often- therefore, it shouldn’t happen all that often in your dialogue, either.
  • Word choice matters
    • Some words are easy and natural to read, but are not often used in dialogue or actual speech because they’re cumbersome—or more likely, there’s an easier, more natural word to use. During the editing process, ask yourself if each word is one you’d hear someone say, or if you’ve included it because you thought it sounded more intelligent.
  • Cheap words are better
    • The previous point leads to this one- people usually speak with economy. We’re more inclined to use an easy word over a more difficult one in conversation. There are some caveats to this, of course, but consider the nudge anyway
  • Reveal what you need in that moment only
    • A writer can use dialogue to reveal things like a character’s education, economic status, what is important to them/ motivation, and a host of other things as well. But, you don’t need to smack your reader upside the skull to let them know your character is smart. Be subtle. Conversation usually is.
  • Less is more
    • Readers usually prefer to read snappy dialogue that moves things along. Use your dialogue well to do this- but don’t overdo it. Some writers rely too heavily on dialogue when the novel, for instance, gives you a chance to get inside the character’s mind too. As example, I usually use the first draft to ‘get it all out’ then I cut and cut (and cut some more) and end up with the dialogue that actually words
  • Be smart in editing
    • In addition to the above points, use your editing time well. Read the dialogue out loud to hear how it sounds (and if it’s a screenplay you’re working on, you should do this anyway to make sure the words are easy to say together). You might also consider during editing whether each dialogue exchange is necessary or if it would be more effective if handled another way.

While I certainly haven’t exhausted the many ways to write better conversations into your work, these are some of the main methods that work for me. You, too, can use these tips to write (and edit) your dialogue more effectively.

Please comment below if any of these ideas worked for you, or with your own dialogue tips/ tricks.

What’s in a name?

Naming characters is a fun, but sometimes scary, part of writing. The options sometimes feel limitless… or is it daunting? There really are some great ways you can make it easier to name your story characters. Let’s explore some of them.

To begin, perhaps you should consider when in the writing process you typically like to name your characters. If it is at the start of your story then you might add one (or more) of these ideas to your writing schedule before you do anything else. If you prefer to learn about your characters and then name them, you may add these in at the middle or closer to the end of your writing process.

A few basic considerations:

Some specific areas may impact the name you choose for your character—and knowing even a little bit about him/ her will help narrow down your options. Some of these issues include:

  • Time period- a name like Gretchen, Rain, or Alberta may be popular at particular times in history but maybe not so (or not used at all) in others.
  • Location- some names vary in popularity based on area
  • Economics- which leads to status in the community and so on. This may be of lesser importance than other issues, but is still worthy of consideration
  • Education- knowing cultural issues, literary references, etc. might suit one class more than another
  • Ethnicity- if a character is from another part of the world or has a family that is proud of or influenced strongly by their roots, ethnicity may play a part in a character name

Any or all of these might in some way influence your choice of character name. Don’t hesitate to do a little research before locking in a name (it’s easy- and with the Internet, you have no excuse). Finally, you also don’t want to stereotype your characters based on any of these things, so be open-minded.

Useful resources:

Random name generators and web sites that explain names and history abound on the Internet, but don’t shy away from some other less frequently considered, but still valid, options for finding names. And a side note- when you hear/ read a name you like and want to use later, be sure you’ve created a space on your computer (a folder perhaps) for names you might need at another time.

Some off-the-wall places to find names that can be used as-found, or adapted in creative and unique ways based on your needs/ wants:

  • Telephone books (last names as first names, anyone?)
  • Places (small towns, cities, countries)
  • The Bible
  • Literature/pamphlets/ documents/ history
  • Observe (waitresses, clerks, cashiers, managers… anyone you run into could have the name- or even nickname- you’ve been searching for. I once overheard someone in a café and used that name later in a story, so pay attention to who is around!)

And, of course I wouldn’t belittle the use of a website to generate a name that suits your story. I’ve used many when writing my own stories and found them to be very helpful. Try one and see what works for you.

Finally, once you settle on a name, remember that you can always change it later. Sometimes I’ll start with a ‘short list’ of names I like, and realize that one stands out over the others. I’ve also written well into a story and realized a name wasn’t working—or that I preferred the character’s nickname to their given name.

Take your time but don’t let naming characters worry you or stall your writing process.

Bonus exercise: Name the character described here: Owner of a small business that prints business cards and other signage. She’s tall with a crooked nose but has a magnetic personality and tells jokes often. Everyone in town knows her as she took over the business for her ailing father who recently passed away. She’s 24 years old and didn’t go to college but took a few online business courses recently. Has a boyfriend who takes her for granted but she’s willing to dump him… just doesn’t yet have a good enough reason (and she doesn’t want to be alone).

Who is she? What are your top name picks? Do first, middle, and last on this one. Feel free to comment with your ideas for her name– or with any other thoughts you have about naming characters.

Happy writing!