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#FirstDraft Planning Day 10: Character Casting and Physical Descriptions

Friday, January 19, 2018

Today’s story-prep comes from Day 10 in the FirstDraft60 process: Your Characters’ Physical Descriptions.


Part 1: Casting Your Characters
Anyone who’s been around me and/or this blog for any length of time knows that using Real World Templates (i.e., casting my characters with actors, models, public figures, etc.) is an integral part of character and story development for me. There would be no Stand-In Groom without the actor Peter Wingfield, who inspired the hero, George. In fact, I wouldn’t even have this current story idea to work on if it weren’t for Paul McGann in the Horatio Hornblower movies sparking the idea for the entire Ransome Trilogy.

I use a combination of pinning images of the Real World Templates to my story board on Pinterest, as well as placing reference images on the characters’ pages in my story bible . . . and I also usually set up a PowerPoint into which I save images of the characters—these are typically screen shots of the actors with certain expressions or body language that evoke ideas for my characters’ development or even for certain scenes.

For this series of story ideas, I cast the main characters in each one as I wrote out the basic ideas for the stories. So that was something I didn’t have to do for this story:

James Yates = Arthur Darvill
Eleanor Ransome = Karen Gillan (adjusted for hair/eye color)

Part 2: Describing Your Characters
Because so much of how I describe the characters comes out when I’m writing—because I’m describing them through the eyes of the other viewpoint character—I try not to get wrapped up too much in writing out static descriptions of them in this process. I do need to know the basics, though:

Here are the areas I focus on when creating this part of my story bible:

Full Name:


Date of Birth:


Hair Color:

Eye Color:

Body type: (stocky, muscular, athletic, full-figured, slender, emaciated, etc.)—from the character’s viewpoint and in others’ opinions, if that’s important

Distinguishing marks/features:


Body art/piercings/modifications:

Repetitive/habitual physical quirks: (i.e., biting fingernails, grinds teeth, pops knuckles, rolls neck when stressed, leg bounces/can’t sit still, etc.)

I fill out this information while looking at images of my Real World Templates (RWTs). And if I’m changing something about them—or if I need to see them in historical costume but they’ve never been in a costume drama from the right era—I go ahead and adjust the image in my photo editing software (which keeps crashing on me; I was able to use it to get Karen Gillan’s face on Emily Blunt’s photo from Young Victoria, but it crashed on me every time I tried to give her blue eyes). This is where having RWTs already picked out comes in handy—using Google Images, I’m able to look at these templates from different angles, in different clothes, and in high resolution so I can see if there’s anything physically unique to that individual that I can bring out.

How are you doing on your 2018 project goals?


If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in below in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

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