I recently picked up the book: Now Write! Mysteries. It is a collection of best selling authors that talk about their writing processes. I chose this book because I have decided to break away from what I normally write: urban fantasy and horror. My project for NaNoWriMo this year is going to be a suspense novel. I like suspense novels. I like the villains, the cops/feds/P.I.'s that catch the villains. I like reading about how the villains do their crimes and their motivations for committing them.
But suspense is very different than urban fantasy. In UF, I can create my own worlds, have various critters brought to life, use magic and all of that fantasy stuff. Suspense novels though, need facts. They need procedure, because though you are creating the crime(s), the law enforcement people you use have to follow a strict set of procedures. That is something you cannot fake or else your readers will be done with you.
In this new genre of writing for me, I cannot have a telepathic elf knowing where and when the crime will occur, or who the villain is. It is a guessing game for not only the police, but for the reader as well. I am going old school with how I am approaching this book: the five W's. Who, what, when, where, why. Who is the criminal, what have they done, when did they do it, where is the crime scene, and last, but most important, why did they do it.
I think I have my criminal(s) figured out. I know what they have done, and why, as well as where and when. I know who they are. But it's the heroes of the book - the cops/feds who have to figure this guy out. That is when my current problem lies. Do I go for the stereotypical cop - older, divorced, drinker, or for the fed who does everything by the book. I just don't know if I can avoid some typical behavior in my law enforcement characters.
This is where Now Write! Mysteries has helped with this issue. One of the contributors, Kathleen George, proposed a good idea for "Casting Your Character." George suggests taking something that you have already written and revise it, casting actors as your characters. How does your character deal with conflict? Is there an actor or actress out there that you have imagined as your character? Knowing their set of skills, would their mannerisms or speech patterns match your character? Does the actor you use add anything to your character - humor, sarcasm, empathy, antipathy? You don't need to make your character match the actor, or vice-versa, but you may discover hidden facets of your character.
Brad Pitt vs Edward Norton? Peter Sellers or Daniel Craig/Sean Connery. Newman or Redford. All of them amazing actors, but they all bring something different to the table. They carry themselves different, body language is different, even the way they use their eyes is different.
Good actors study character traits. Sometimes a writer needs only to look to the big screen for an idea to pop and say "Hey, that is exactly how X enters a room." Just a little spark and you're off.