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Finding The Right Character For The Plot by Beth Daniels, aka Beth Henderson, J.B. Dane, Nied Darnell

Ever wonder what a casting director is given to round up actors who “might” be right for a part in a new movie?

Some actors are so right, you can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

Tom Selleck was approached to play Indiana Jones but his Magnum P.I. gig didn’t mesh with Spielberg’s shooting schedule.

And let’s face it, the shooting schedule has to take a lot of things into consideration – locations, costumes, props, stunts…well, a lot! Holding that all up for a particular actor is rarely feasible, although I believe that is what they did to snag Benedict Cumberbatch to play Dr. Strange simply because other actors just weren’t judged “right” in their various screen tests and interviews. Ben, as I’ve heard Martin Freeman refer to him, didn’t make them totally wait though. He was doing Shakespeare on the stage and in his free time heading to the gym for training with the Dr. Strange stunt guys. There was going to be far more action for this role than for the cerebral Mr. Holmes or the tragic Will Shakespeare dude that was his day job for a bit there.


But back to Indiana Jones.

When Tom wasn’t available, who did they turn to? The guy who was probably the first among the major rolls to be hired for the first Star Wars movie, Harrison Ford. Because we’ve all seen Harrison play Indy numerous times (even a cameo in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles for TV), it’s hard to consider anyone else in the role.

For Spider Man: Homecoming, the bonus features that accompanied home release have interviews where they talk about all the boys they considered, shot screen tests of, and how they kept coming back to Tom Holland. I totally agree that Tom pulled off the 15-year-old version of Peter Parker very well. Will be interesting to see him as Peter Pan when Disney rolls around to filming it. He might be able to use his natural accent (which isn’t American) as Pan.


Let’s go way back in history…

Well, for some of you, for others it would be pre-personal history…to when My Fair Lady was journeying from the stage to the big screen. Julie Andrews had played Eliza Doolittle on Broadway opposite Rex Harrison, but she didn’t have movie star power, while Rex did. He retained his Professor Henry Higgins persona, but the studio gave Audrey Hepburn the role of Eliza. I’m not saying Audrey didn’t do a heck of a job, even though she spent all that time with vocal coaches to sing the songs and then they dubbed in someone else’s voice for them, but if they’d given the job to Julie, no dubbing would have been necessary.

Of course, since she was available after being passed over for Eliza, Julie stepped into a role that made her name – Mary Poppins.


And what does all this have to do with finding the right character for your story?

Plenty. Why? Because you just might need to “cast” your cast of characters.

Things are so much easier when you can mentally see an actor playing the part in your mind. You can see how they move, their expressions, the interaction with other characters. How they sound. I’ve got a character in my Steampunk trilogy who I see and hear as Tom Mison of TV’s Sleepy Hollow. I think he makes a perfect Heathcliff Haymes, who just happens to be an actor known for playing melodramatic villains…and have the women in audience sighing rather than booing his performance. Yep, Tom could do Heath’s sneer and he sounds so right for the part.

This is the kind of stuff we’ll talk about and play with in the upcoming workshop, CASTING CALL: PERFECT CHARACTERS…FOR YOUR STORY, THAT IS, which runs August 6-September 2 here at Savvy Authors.

Let’s consider what happens when you – should you be going the Indie Publishing route, or giving suggestions to your editor, filling in information for an art director – deal with what the characters looks like on the cover.

I’ve filled out many a character workshop for the art department at various traditional publishers. Their questionnaires usually asked things like, what color hair and eyes and skin tone a character had, what their build was like (I must admit, for the hero, I frequently wrote “think Tom Selleck either as Magnum or one the Louis L’Amour western heroes”). They wanted to know the type of clothes the character wore most often, asked for a very brief synopsis of the story, what the setting was (you know, city and if it was a particular one, or country or time of year). Then they’d hire models, take pictures, turn an artist lose to paint a cover based on a photograph, though later they started using the shots themselves – enhanced, I’m sure.


They’d send me a copy of the cover shortly before the book was to be released.

75% of the time I’d gaze at the cover and say, “why did I bother describing things?” In other words, there were a lot of covers I didn’t like. Of course, those covers were put together long before the book had made it very far along it’s path to publication at the publisher’s. And it was a meeting of editors that often voted on which cover to use. I suppose they knew what they were doing, even if it wasn’t the way I’d have done things.

Fast forward to these stories being out-of-print long enough for me to request the rights be returned. To the event of Independent publishing, particularly via e-books. In deciding to re-release the various titles I needed to come up with covers. I’d had enough classes on doing graphics with a computer program to make me dangerous. I had a very tight budget (let’s just call it non-existent, huh?) which meant there would be no hiring anyone to pose, take pictures or nuthin’. That meant using royalty free art.


I put on my character casting hat and went looking for the guys and/or gals who fit the story – hopefully better than those on the covers I hadn’t liked.

This is not easy. I’ve redone covers more than once because, if you read suggestions about being an Indie publisher, one of the most common things mentioned to boost sales is to replace the cover. Not only is a lot of mental swearing done the first time you attempt a cover, it’s done repeatedly as you change things out.

And it’s all because you’re still casting the part. The difficulty with hair and eye coloring began being taken care of at the traditional houses long ago. They trimmed the heads off the models on the romances.

Not long ago I posted an “oh woe is me” about attempting to find the right shot for various heroes. It included the “this model’s mother must have written the keywords because she has got to be the only person who thinks he registers as ‘handsome young man’ that I requested”.

I wonder whether directors, producers, and casting departments for the movies make the same sort of remarks as they look through the publicity stills the actors’ agents supply them with for a particular role. Bet they do. At least the casting office, which would be the first gauntlet to be run.


Don’t know about you, but my characters stroll into my mind fully formed.

It’s finding a person outside of my mind to use as the physical counterpart that is the problem sometimes. But, you know, if you send them to the makeup department, give some direction to the costumer, and talk to the voice coach – all invisible mental members of your staff, naturally – even an actor who wasn’t perfect for the portrayal can come up to snuff. Can strut about in your mind as your character and make the story come even more alive for your muse. Or does the muse come first and then the character?

If the actor you’ve cast doesn’t measure up, replace him or her. If you’re building a cover – follow the Queen’s rule of thumb in Alice in Wonderland. Yell, “off with their head” and clip it.


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Beth Daniels

Beth Daniels is a Savvy Writer’s fixture, having been one of the first presenters the day the doors were thrown open (And we so love her ~ed )

A professional novelist since 1990, she’s the author of 29 romances in various niches (rom-com, historical, YA) as Beth Henderson and other pseudonyms. During the past decade she began writing Steampunk and urban fantasy/mystery under new monikers. Recently she signed a three-book contract for her Raven Tales urban fantasy mystery series. To warm readers up to the Raven Tales and her Covert Cogs steampunk ones, she’s been writing really long short stories (not quite novella length but approaching it) for both series as prequel tales serialized on her websites in the blog sections. Visit her at,, and


The best stories grow from who characters are, from what they have experienced in the past and what they will need to deal with in the future. In fiction, these characters might be human, but they might be something other than human. No matter what they are, they need to act according to the needs of the story, and that means they need to be convincingly real to the reader.

After all, even if there is a mystery to be solved, folks to be rescued or protected, treasure to be searched out, a villain to be overcome, or love to be found, it is your character or characters who need to do the work.

They need to be prepared for the job. You need to build them to fit the requirements.

And those requirements aren’t just for insuring that they save the day, they are about the things that haunt them, color the choices they make or stand off from making based on past experiences.

This is about portraying characters as though they are real people with real problems, foibles, hopes and dreams.

And even werewolves, demons, faeries, yetis, and unicorns will need to have the same goals, fears, foibles and hopes as a human to sweep a reader into the strife of their story. So will humans. They are all characters.

Buy this book!


First published in the romance market in 1990 and went on to write 29 books under a variety of pseudonyms and subgenres (romantic comedy, historical [Old West] romantic adventure, YA romantic comedy). Beth Henderson wrote most of those, working with editors at M. Evans, Leisure, Harlequin Historicals, Silhouette Special Editions and Silhouette Your's Truly, a small e-book company (when e-books were really new) and gave Indie Publishing a try with a couple titles, though mostly for reprints. Reinventing myself for urban fantasy mystery comedy as J.B. Dane and The Raven Tales, the first book set for release from Burns and Lea Books the first half of 2019. Also do Weird West Steampunk and a Dieselpunk/urban fantasy 1920s comedy adventure as Nied Darnell. As Beth Daniels (real name) I occassionally turn former workshop into e-books -- and as I've been doing online workshops since before there was a Savvy Authors, that's a lot of workshops.

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