There are many methods for creating rich ad surprising characters…

…characters who move the reader and the audience and who come to life on the page.

Sometimes they just come to you, fully formed, and sometimes they are needed but refuse to come to life whatever you do.

I’ve found some wonderful tools for character development  over the years. Here’s a very simple method which can have very profound and surprising results.

A picture says a thousand words

Step One:

I cast my character using photographs.

The process is very similar to casting for actors, only it’s simpler and you don’t need a casting suite (or even a casting couch – sorry). You just need pictures.

I cull my photos from everywhere and anywhere. My most fruitful source is often colour supplements from newspapers. Magazines are also good. And you can search out pictures on the Internet, printing off any you like.

I gather all the pictures I can find, cutting off any reference to who the people really are, and I choose the ones that seem to have resonance for me.

They may not relate to the real character at all. A policeman in my script may be brought to life by a pic of an actual policeman – or a Brazilian footballer! The trick is not to be too prescriptive – as with a real casting the fewer preconceptions you have the more you are likely to find someone who brings a new and surprising element, as well as truth and freshness.

Step Two:

Once I have cast my picture, I talk to it.

Or to be more precise, I speak as the person in the picture, in the first person, answering questions and describing my life, my attitudes, my feelings, anything relevant.

You can do this out loud or on the computer – you can interview the character yourself, or get a friend to help you. There’s no need to act or take on an accent, but do try to get into character and see the world through his/her eyes.

The key, as always, is to focus on what they feel about things. This will unlock their heart.

I recommend the method – it really works. I now cast almost every part and pin the pictures up on the wall when I work.

It frees me up enormously to get into character and see – and feel – how they speak and act.

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