Casting Characters

Published February 10, 2016 by Lorraine Nelson - Author

The following is a post I received from someone at some time during the past few years. I’m usually pretty good at giving credit where it’s due, but in this case, all I can tell you is that this post was not written by me. It’s not my intention to plagiarize or step on anyone’s toes, but this is such a good article and I wanted to share it with you. In reality, I probably couldn’t explain it any better. 🙂 So, if you are the original author of this post, please contact me or take credit in the comments. In the meantime, I’m going to share. 🙂

Casting Your Characters
Most people think that an exciting and well-developed plot is what makes a script good, but even the most intriguing plot won’t hold someone’s attention if the action is performed by flat, unoriginal characters.

Flat Characters vs. Original Characters
Flat character: Joe is 20 years old. He likes football and eats a lot of bacon.
Original Character: Tucker Wallace is the coolest nerd on Earth. This month, he’s been on the cover of Popular Science, Time, People, Cosmo, and GQ. He’s been a guest on Oprah, hosted Saturday Night Live, and has been offered a job at, literally, every pharmaceutical company in the world. One magazine deemed him the “most sought-after bachelor in the world,” while another claimed that his “discovery will change life as we know it forever.” While spending hours upon hours in a makeshift laboratory in his parents’ basement as a boy, leaning over test tubes, pushing up his glasses, and wiping the sweat from his forehead, Tucker never thought his efforts would come to this. Never did he think he would be sitting where he is right now, under the bright lights in front of another live studio audience explaining how he feels now that he discovered the Fountain of Youth. What Tucker won’t tell the person interviewing him is that he is terrified. Terrified of being in the spotlight and even more terrified about some unexpected side-effects starting to appear in his patients.”

Which movie would you rather watch? The one about Joe or the one about Tucker?
Not only are characters with hidden depths and secrets more fun to read about, they’re also more fun to write about. Though you’ll end up writing about a bunch of different people in your script, all of them will fall into one of three categories: the protagonist, the supporting characters, and the antagonist.

The Protagonist

The protagonist has the starring role in your script. In most scripts, the protagonist is on a journey to get what he or she wants more than anything else in the world. Your protagonist could be after fame, revenge, or something much more elusive, like overcoming poverty or cancer.

The Supporting Characters

Supporting characters have an important role in your protagonist’s life. Some may be around for the protagonist’s entire journey, some for only part. Supporting characters can be friends, close relatives, or love interests—you name it. These characters also have dreams of their own, and their adventures will add even more excitement to your script.

The Physical Antagonist

A physical antagonist is a living, breathing character in a script that is standing in the way of the protagonist achieving his or her goal. This does not mean that all physical antagonists are evil monsters. Some antagonists stand in the way simply through jealousy, or misunderstanding, or by having a set of goals that conflicts with the protagonist’s. If Gavin is your protagonist and he wants to take Kim to the dance, but Chet asked her first, this doesn’t mean Chet is a “bad guy.” He’s just another guy who likes the same girl. Then again, there are those antagonists that are just plain evil. It’s up to you to decide who’s going to stand in your protagonist’s way, and how he or she is going to do it.

The Abstract Antagonist

Though a lot of antagonists are living, breathing beings, some are not. Some protagonists face off against illness, grief, or the powers of a corrupt government. We like to call these kinds of antagonists abstract antagonists because they don’t take actual physical form. If your script’s antagonist is not a living person/animal/entity, you have an abstract antagonist. It may be easier to think of it this way: if your protagonist cannot physically kick your antagonist in the knee, he or she is probably abstract.

Physical Antagonist

A racist or intolerant character

A character who is working to make sure your protagonist lives a poverty-stricken life

A character who is forcing your character to struggle against nature (e.g. someone who has left your character stranded in Antarctica)

A character whose religious beliefs oppress your protagonist

A government official such as a dictator who has it in for your protagonist

Your protagonist’s evil boss

A character whose sole mission is to make sure your protagonist becomes ill (e.g. through poisoning or exposure to a deadly disease)

Abstract Antagonist

Racism/intolerance in a community or in general

Poverty or the economy in a community or in general

Nature as an entity (e.g. a natural disaster or an extreme climate)

A religion or all religions

A corrupt government

A corporation/company

Disease/illness in general

It’s a great idea for you, the author, to try and get to know your characters before you begin writing. We asked a team of scientists, mathematicians, and creative writing gurus from around the world, “What’s the easiest way for writers to get to know their characters?” Hands down, the experts all agreed the single best way is to fill out a Character Questionnaire for all your characters.

Character Questionnaire
In your notebook, answer the questions in this questionnaire about your characters.
Section One: Core Character QuestionsComplete Section One for every character in your book. If you have an abstract antagonist, try to answer as many questions as you can from this section for them then move on to Section Four.
Section Two: Questions for Your Supporting CharactersComplete Section Two just for your supporting characters.
Section Three: Questions for a Physical AntagonistComplete Section Three if you have a physical antagonist. OR Section Four: Questions for an Abstract Antagonist. Complete Section Four if you have an abstract antagonist.
Section One: Complete this section for all your characters!
1. Name:
2. Age:
3. Height:
4. Eye color:
5. Physical appearance:
6. Strange or unique physical attributes:
7. Favorite clothing style/outfit:
8. Where does he or she live? What is it like there?
9. Defining gestures/movements (i.e., curling his or her lip when he or she speaks, always keeping his or her eyes on the ground, etc.):
10. Things about his or her appearance he or she would most like to change:
11. Speaking style (fast, talkative, monotone, etc.):
12. Pet peeves:
13. Fondest memory:
14. Hobbies/interests:
15. Special skills/abilities:
16. Insecurities:
17. Quirks/eccentricities:
18. Temperament (easygoing, easily angered, etc.):
19. Negative traits:
20. Things that upset him or her:
21. Things that embarrass him or her:
22. Things this character really cares about:
23. Any phobias?
24. Things that make him or her happy:
25. Family (describe):
26. Deepest, darkest secret:
27. Reason he or she kept this secret for so long:
28. Other people’s opinions of this character (What do people like about this character? What do they dislike about this character?):
29. Favorite bands/songs/type of music:
30. Favorite movies:
31. Favorite TV shows:
32. Favorite foods:
33. Favorite sports/sports teams:
34. Political views:
35. Religion/philosophy:
36. Dream vacation:
37. Description of his or her house:
48. Description of his or her bedroom:
39. Any pets?
40. Best thing that has ever happened to this character:
41. Worst thing that has ever happened to this character:
42. Superstitions:
43. Three words to describe this character:
44. If a song played every time this character walked into the room, what song would it be?

Section Two: Supporting Character Questions
1. Relationship to the protagonist:
2. Character’s favorite thing about the protagonist:
3. Similarities to protagonist:
4. Differences from protagonist:

Section Three: Antagonist Questions
1. Why is he or she facing off against the protagonist?
2. Any likable traits?
3. Weaknesses:

Section Four: Abstract Antagonist
1. What is your abstract antagonist? Is it a disease like cancer, a social ill like poverty, or something larger than life, like grief?
2. How is this antagonist affecting the protagonist?
3. Do other characters notice? How does this antagonist affect the other people in your script?

So there you have it. If you want well-rounded, believable characters, get to know them before you start writing. It will make telling the story a whole lot easier as well. And, until next time, Happy Writing! 🙂

2 comments on “Casting Characters

  • What an excellent post, Lorraine! I know that a good plot is very important to a novel, but if I don’t like the characters, the best plot line in the world won’t work for me. Great characters can even bring a good plot to the level of great–that’s just how important characters are. And if you have a book that has both great characters and a great plot–now that’s a keeper!

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