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Casting Compelling Characters: Part I
By Rebecca Forster
February, 2006, 17:29

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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