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Casting Compelling Characters: Part II
By Rebecca Forster
March, 2006, 17:29

Details, details, details, create characters that your readers will forever remember.
left off last time (see last month's IN Fiction column) by giving my character, Josie Baylor-Bates, a new place to live, moving her from Venice Beach, California to Hermosa Beach where she would be open to the people who came to there to enjoy a shared passion – volleyball. Her home became very important to the development of her character and not just her hometown – her house itself.

During her evolution I had to question why I was led in the direction of creating a house and home environment that was of the utmost importance to this emerging character. Yes, she was an army brat so the constant movement in her childhood might make her long for a house of her own. But I felt the desire for a home could symbolize something deeper, a longing and need that would also impact her professional and emotional life.

Suddenly I realized there was a compelling reason that Josie needed to feel grounded: her mother had disappeared when Josie was 13 and home was never the same. Josie was always looking for a sense of well-being and stability she didn’t have as a young woman. If no one was going to give it to her, she would create it herself.

That nugget of information led me to realize that Josie would have an emotional need to be loved but an intellectual aversion to appearing needy. Therefore, the man in her life had to be equal to her – neither Alpha male nor Beta. Her law partner became a grandmotherly sort; a woman ready to retire who wanted to take on a partner to whom she could pass on her practice.

As these characters fell into place, I understood that I had created a family for Josie, one that would protect her if needed, save her if needed, but also allow her to grow. Josie’s abandonment issues also meant she would champion the underdog in any courtroom drama.

Finally, I opened up the law practice without restricting the types of clients she would take on. While I kept the practice small, I didn’t limit it to women’s issues, but rather problems encountered by a small beach town. High profile cases would come calling, but Hermosa Beach would be where Josie’s heart resided.

Josie Bates became more complex with each draft of Hostile Witness. Through Silent Witness and Privileged Witness her history took on a life of its own and affected every decision Josie made throughout those books. The new Josie affected the way I plotted the books, the dialogue, the action sequences.

Readers told me that Josie felt real to them, that they admired her, that they would know her if they met on the street. This reaction was a far cry from what would have happened if someone had published the first cardboard cutout Josie. The extra work meant a character that readers remembered, a goal every writer strives for.

So if you find that your story feels lifeless, one-dimensional or without options, it could be that you have more work to do on your character’s “life.” Don’t be shy. Dig deep. It is only with memories and experiences to draw on that our characters can act and react to the situations we create in our plots.

Change is a good thing. Layer their history. Acknowledge every detail and understand how it affects your characters. Let them breathe on their own.

Giving birth is never easy, but in the end it’s worth every ache and pain

Read Rebecca Forster's excerpt from Silent 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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