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Be Your Own Casting Director (Part 4): Using Real World Templates in Character Development

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So far, we’ve looked at what Character Casting is, four types of Character Casting, and creating a Casting Book. So today, we’re going to go beyond the fun part of character casting and into the more fun part/the working part of it.

How does Character Casting help with Character Development?

Once you have cast your characters and begun the process of collecting images, you may find yourself thinking of scenes inspired by the images you see—and you may find images that fit scenes you’ve already written but which give you ideas for how to better describe your characters’ reactions or movements. One of the reasons why I collect so many images of each of my characters is because different facial expressions or different things going on in the image can spark story ideas for me. It’s also one of the reasons I tend to use public figures (mainly actors/actresses)—so that in addition to still photos, I can see them in motion, hear their voices, see the minute changes in their facial expressions as they portray different emotions.

For example:

Opening scene

This is a screen capture of Anna Friel, the Real World Template (RWT) for Julia Witherington, from the film St. Ives. I actually found this image (and watched the movie) after I’d already written Julia’s opening scene in Ransome’s Honor in which she’s homesick and looking out a window on a rainy night. But with this image in front of me when I went back to that scene in revisions, I was able to, I believe, bring a more evocative feel to her homesickness and the way the rain played into it, in it.

When I first started working on the Matchmakers series, I knew who Zarah (Love Remains) was, mostly because that book was a complete rewrite of a manuscript I’d finished five or six years before. She’d been cast from a model I’d fallen in love with from a Land’s End women’s-sizes catalog. She was, apparently, their go-to model for that catalog, because there were tons of images of her, and the model was wonderful at conveying different emotions . . . all of them leading me to a certain personality type for her.

When I first came up with the idea for what would become The Art of Romance, I just slapped an RWT into the role of the heroine (whose name I didn’t even know at the time)—the genesis of that story was the RWT for Dylan, celebrity chef Sam Talbot. When it came time to write the proposal for the story (in order to sell it to a publisher), I had to cast the heroine. I knew I wanted her to be a redhead, so I went to my Excel spreadsheet and started narrowing my parameters, until I found this template, a model from the Lane Bryant website:


But when I started developing her character (based off of multiple images of her from that website and a few retailers where she modeled), I discovered that she was becoming too much like Zarah. I guess plus-sized models are directed to use similar body language and facial expressions when modeling. But I went ahead and finished writing the proposal with her as the RWT for Caylor.

After receiving a cover design for Love Remains with a female model that looked nothing like Zarah, the publisher told me that they wanted to be able to use stock images for the covers (rather than going to the expense of a photo shoot). So instead of leaving things to chance, I hopped onto a stock photo site and started browsing images of twenty- and thirtysomething redheads in order to both re-cast Caylor and to have stock images for the designer to work with. And I came across this image:

Caylor 19

And, suddenly, Caylor’s character clicked for me. (And I was able to find a bunch of other images of her, as well, which only helped me both in the prep work and as I wrote.) Caylor went from being soft-spoken, demure, and something of a shrinking violet to vibrant, sassy, occasionally silly, outgoing, yet still able to be professional as an author and a professor when needed.

She also went from having long, softly curled hair that becomes somewhat of a curtain to hide behind, to a short, chunky, purposely messy style that announces who she is as soon as she enters a room. (Or runs into the hero on the stairs in her office building.)

Maybe this visual will show the importance of getting just the right RWT for a character:

Alternate RWT Comparison

Even with just the eyes and the hairstyle showing, they’re obviously two different characters.

How has the process of character casting and/or working with Real World Templates helped (or hindered) you when it comes to developing your characters?

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In case you missed the other posts in this series…
Part 1: Character Development for Visually Oriented Writers; or, Be Your Own Casting Director

Part 2: Be Your Own Casting Director: 4 Methods of Character Casting

Part 3: Be Your Own Casting Director: Creating a “Casting Book”

Part 4: Be Your Own Casting Director: Using Real World Templates in Character Development

Part 5: Be Your Own Casting Director: Isn’t This All Just a Big Waste of Time?

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  1. Marie Pinkham permalink
    Monday, September 29, 2014 6:51 am

    Kaye, I have found your articles about casting to be so helpful. I do find that a picture (or pictures) helps me to get a much clearer image of my character’s makeup and personality, and thus, her story. Thank you so much for so generously sharing with us what you’ve learned along the way! Marie



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