Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Now Auditioning for the Role of Hero

by Jill Williamson

Recently I've watched some popular movies with my kids. Annie was one of them. There was some bonus material on the DVD where Aileen Quinn talks about how she got the role of Annie over hundreds of other little girls. Casting directors are very particular because the actors can make or break a film. Just think of a movie that disappointed you, and you'll likely recall that you didn't enjoy the actors' performances. Something about the way they looked or played the part didn't live up to your expectations.

You can use this in your writing. You should.

Think about your main character's story goal. What does he have to do in the book to "save the day?" Now ask yourself, "Is he the right man for the job?"

It's not all that shocking to have a handsome, strong guy go on a quest. But to have a skinny kid ... or a kid who pigeon toed and legally blind ... or a girl who has triplet toddler siblings to care for ... These types of things make the story much more interesting.

But how do you know which interesting mix is the best one? How do you decide which person gets the starring role?

Ask yourself why each character can't fulfill the story goal.

For example, in the movie Sky High, Will Stronghold can't save the day because he hasn't gotten his powers yet. That makes him interesting. The movie wouldn't have worked as well if he was already super strong and could fly.

In The Hunger Games, Peeta can't kill people. He's a baker. He likes to frost cupcakes. That makes us root for him all the more. That makes him interesting.

In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy can't marry Mr. Darcy. In fact, she declares that Mr. Darcy is the last man in the world she could ever be prevailed upon to marry because of his arrogance and conceit, and his selfish disdain for the feelings of others. It wouldn't have been much of a story if Mr. Darcy had been agreeable from page one, now would it?

The reason why your character is all wrong often is what makes him just right. Brainstorm contrasting traits like the weak superhero or the killer who is a baker. Is there an issue or trait with your character that will clash with the story goal? Think about physical, mental, or psychological issues. How about religious conflicts? Professional ones?

Sometimes it can help to get a sheet of paper out and brainstorm. Put the role that needs to be cast in the story in the center of the paper, then brainstorm different types of people who might audition for the part. Hire the one that you find to be the best fit.


Can you think of an example of a character who seems all wrong for the role he must fill, but that's what makes him so perfect for it? Share in the comments.

32 comments:

  1. Hmmm. Thinking about my main character, she's ideal for the goal because it applies/relates to her. She's NOT because she doesn't like depending on others--she likes to do everything herself.

    After reading this, though, I'm wondering if maybe she needs another fault. She probably has one hidden that I just don't know about yet. ;)

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    1. Ooh, have fun finding that hidden fault, Amanda. :-)

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  2. My FMC's goal is to find her sister and escape to a safe neighboring country. She is the character for the goal because she has kept her sister hidden for months (no siblings allowed) and she would do anything to keep her safe. She isn't good for the goal, because she isn't skilled with a computer and security systems. The only thing she's good at is nimbleness and throwing knives for hunting, but neither one of those is any good when you can't brake into anything or you can't kill anyone.

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  3. Great post, Jill! I gave this a lot of thought as I was writing Ring of Secrets. History handed me one perfect example--one of George Washington's most trusted spies was, in fact, bipolar. (Not that they called it that then.) SO not the right disposition for a spy! But it worked. And made him so interesting. =) I needed a hero who was just as complex, so I went with a hero who got totally tongue-tied around anything female...not exactly ideal for a guy hoping to infiltrate the social circle by finding a high society young lady to court. =)

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    1. That reminds me of the movie "Agent Cody Banks" in a way! Love that plot line!

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    2. Fun, Roseanna! That's so interesting too.

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  4. I just finished reading "Among the Brave" by Margaret Haddix. The main character totally doesn't seem to fit the role he needs to fill, which is what makes the story interesting. He's never set foot outdoors until a few months earlier and he's terrified of everything. Yet when his friends' lives are in danger, he has to function outdoors and pretend to join forces with the people he is most afraid of in order to save his friends.

    Great post! Thank you.

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  5. My FMC is rather emotionally/psychologically unstable, paranoid, and doesn't trust people easily.
    She has to try and make a bunch of people she just recently met, most of whom distrust/hate her, pull together on one thing, and trust them to support her when she absorbs a power that might drive her completely insane.
    ...not very well suited, I guess.

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    1. Sounds good to me. If she's not good with people, but the story is going to force her to work with people, it sounds like good potential for conflict.

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  6. For some reason I can't think of anything off the top of my head besides superheros. :P

    In my medieval fantasy novel, I have a prince named Elric. He's sent on a quest, but isn't the best sword fighter, isn't all that strong, and would much rather read a book then get involved with anything confrontational.

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    1. Elric sounds like me! Wait... LOL

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    2. Haha! Maybe you should play him in the movie! ;)

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  7. Aww, I love Peeta ;) in Enchanted (the Disney film), Giselle is thrown into NYC and struggles there, being a naive fairy take princess and all, but she teaches they guy (whose name escapes me) how to relax and let go, and not to be afraid of love, that sponatniety can be a good thing, and just generally gives him a new paradigm. Also, as with Peeta, we root for we because she's out of her depth, and she's great for the comedy aspect ;)

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    1. Good example, Hannah! Giselle is a fun character. I love that scene when she gets the pigeons and roaches to clean the house. So funny.

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    2. My favourite line is when Pronce Edward alas the bus and proclaims: "The steel beast is dead, peasants, I've set you all free!"

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  8. I'm being such a jerk right now, but it's Lizzy Bennet. Lizzie Bennet = modern Elizabeth Bennet in "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries"; Lizzy Bennet = the Austen original

    This post comes just in time, considering the issues I'm having with my MC's. I think I'll do a brainstorm this evening!

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    1. Since I know Jill is a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice, I'm guessing her usage of Lizzie was simply because it's the more common American spelling. A very easy mistake to make.

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    2. And as we say down below there, disagreement is welcome and that includes correction when we make mistakes. We just ask that it be done in a considerate fashion :)

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    3. Yeah, I messed up because I was up late writing my post at the last minute when I should have been sleeping. Sadly, there are never enough hours in the day to do it all.

      But I fixed it, Monica. ;-)

      Have a fun brainstorming time!

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  9. I've never spent a lot of time thinking about my Hero, it would really pay off if I did, I bet. I always try to get plot & basic character things. I need to work on that.

    The first example I thought of for opposites is the MC of Confessions of a Shopaholic, she deep in debt & keeps shopping but she is a journalist at Successful Savings Magazine and writes a huge article on bank fraud that gets her a job on a morning show answering money questions, lol! Awesome idea there.

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  10. Darren is a spy in my WIP come to rescue the MC. Except he's really a doctor that had always dreamed of being a spy. So he snuck away from America (they're trying to rescue a portion of America that was siezed. It's hard to figure out what I'm talking about without context)to come and help. Except he doesn't know how to manage the materiels he stole to help and can only help when somebody gets hurt. That's helpful because he accidentally hurts people a lot by trying to be all spyish (is that a word?). :)

    I'm going to have to try this someday!

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  11. My main character had been attacked previously by her enemy at a time where she didn't know who her enemy was. But maybe she doesn't have enough faults or opposite role, just a history.

    Thanks for the post!

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  12. I can't really think of anything right now. My MC is rather stubborn and obstinate, which gets in his way when he realizes that his job -and Society- are worse than he thought. And he's quite confrontational and not very good at being subtle.

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  13. I'm reading Seraphina (by Rachel Hartman) and she's perfect to do the "save the world" thing, because no one trusts her, she lies, and she's actual an illegal being! Who could be more perfect, right? :) This is a GREAT post.

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  14. Jill, this is a brilliant idea!! I'm not currently in need of a character like this. (In fact, I have too many characters - working on that! haha) BUT. I will be taking this into whatever story I write next. Amazing! :)

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  15. Makes me think of Frodo Baggins. A small, happy, and innocent guy that has never left the Shire in his entire life becomes the one to travel across Middle Earth, face unimaginable evil, sacrifice a part of himself to take the ring to Mt. Doom. He's perfect because no one would suspect a hobbit to hold the course of the future.

    Oooo, what about the Pevensie children? They were even in a prophecy to save and rule all of Narnia. Children?! Yet through them, Aslan was able to save all of Narnia.

    How about the nerdy kid next door? He's a skinny, four-eyed high-school student living with his aunt and uncle. Or so you think. He's really the web-swinging hero saving all of New York City.

    Just to name a few. :D

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    1. P.S. Great post! I loved it so much that I printed it off for future reference. It got the old hinges moving in the brain again. Thank you so much Jill!

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  16. Ahh. Time to put some issues on the page, then. Thanks. I was getting bored with these perfect relationships that are nothing like real life that my characters seem to have.

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  17. Oh, thank you, Jill! This is spot-on and makes me think. . .my main character might be a little *too* heroic.

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  18. My MC is an army doctor who was pulled out of his last year of medical school by the government so they could train him as a special-ops soldier. At one point in the story he attacks a guy for insulting him, and then proceeds to bandage him up.

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