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January, 2008

W.R.Benton Western Fiction

Casting Compelling Characters: Part I
Give 'em a life, for goodness sake
By  Rebecca Forster

Characters with a history and activities outside of your storyline provides depth.
ithout a real, detailed "life," characters will limit your plot and story.

Josie Baylor-Bates, the heroine of my Witness series of legal thrillers, had a painful birth. In the beginning, I envisioned her as tough woman. Disillusioned with her career as a top criminal attorney Josie would retreat to an ocean side town where, with a female law partner, she would dedicate herself to solving women's legal problems.

There was logic to my plan. The majority of fiction readers are women. Strong women characters sell. Ergo, strong women characters who deal with women's issues would sell well.

Sadly, I forgot one little thing. I forgot to make my heroine interesting.

This one-dimensional Josie felt dour. She lacked energy. There was nothing in her life that she cherished. No lover, no children, nothing. Because she dealt only with the problems of women she seldom came in contact with men. She lived at the beach yet didn’t enjoy the beautiful setting. 

I had envisioned one scene where the perpetrator watched her through the window of her condominium. Nice scene. But to have Josie locked into a sterile apartment-like condominium with security doors made it impossible for her to interact with the beach town around her. 

Finally, Josie’s partner was a feminist lawyer. That characterization limited the types of cases and clients the two women would take on.

In short, I had constrained the content of my character’s life so severely that there was no room for emotional growth or physical activity. With such a forbidding – dare I say depressive – character, the plots became equally gray and dark instead of on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrilling.

Recognizing this, I set about giving Josie Bates an extreme makeover. The objective was to give her a background that led to plot considerations instead of restricting plot movement.

First, I gave her interests outside of the law.

Josie, I decided, had played volleyball on a scholarship at USC. She was a military brat used to being self-reliant. She owned a home that had easy access to the beach and she was remodeling it herself.

Josie immediately brightened with these few changes. She suddenly had a body type – lean and tall and, above all, strong. This meant that if she found herself in physically challenging situations she could handle them.

By making her an athlete, the reader also knew that she was competitive and knew how to win. Very important if Josie was going to be a believable attorney and an attractive woman.

I gave her a new place to live, moving her from Venice Beach, California to Hermosa Beach where volleyball tournaments tie together an entire community.

In Hermosa, it was more likely that she would have long-term friends, not transient ones. She would also be open to the people who came to Hermosa to enjoy a shared passion – volleyball. Her home became very important to the development of her character and not just her hometown – her house.

Now we’re rolling!

Stay tuned next month for Part II.

Read Rebecca Forster's excerpt from Privileged Witness.IN Icon

Rebecca Forster, a USA Today bestseller, began writing on a crazy dare. Upwards of 22 books later, she concentrates on legal thrillers. Currently on the stand are Privileged Witness (Signet, 2006), Silent Witness (Signet, 2005) and Hostile Witness (Signet, 2004). She is married to a Superior Court judge and has two sons.

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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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