How to Write Deeper Characters: Be them for a day

Jun 21, 2011

When I started writing TUGL, I had a little problem with my main character, Gena. I didn't get her. I didn't know who she was. I knew a lot about her, but I knew her less than I usually do when starting my stories. I typically get to know my characters quite a bit better as I write the first draft, but with Gena, I wanted to do a bit more. I wanted to get inside her head.

Gena is a dancer. She does ballet and jazz, and dance forms part of her worldview and is part of an important sub-plot. Here's the thing: I have not danced since I was a kid. So I did my traditional reading research, but I've also talked to dancers and plan to observe a dance class. Here's the funnest thing, though: I've been dancing myself.

I can't afford a dance class right now, but there's this awesome thing called a library that has all sorts of videos. Including dance instruction videos. For the last two weeks, my exercise has consisted of ballet and jazz steps, and it's so darn fun! It also helps me not just understand Gena, but to feel things like she does.

And, call me crazy, but I've tried to channel her a bit in daily life, too. While rollerblading in the canyon, I looked around me and tried to see things how Gena would, to notice the things she would notice. As I go through my daily routine, I imagine what Gena's routine is like, and how it's different from mine. While the Kiddo runs in mad circles around the yard and our resident garter snake sticks his head out of his hole next to my foot, I let myself feel how Gena would about it.

It's been surprisingly helpful to literally get inside Gena's head from time to time. The writing helps too, of course, as I get to know her through her actions and reactions. Maybe I'm a little nuts, but it's been fun to "be" Gena occasionally.

So, my friends, what do you do to get inside your character's heads? Have you ever looked at your world as they would? Have you done extra research to find out more about what they love?

11 comments:

akoss said...

I'm currently reading this book: "No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells"
by Alice Orr
and she has a very extensive list of questions that would help the writer get in the skin of their character, for a more intimate connection.
It's a bit uncomfortable for me, but so far I'm finding it pretty helpful.

Doug said...

I really like this idea. I've always felt like an author should be required to go hunt, trap, skin, and roast a rabbit over a fire before they so casually toss this action into their books.

As an avid reader of just about everything I can tell the difference when an author is writing about something he/she has done vs. researched.

Christine Murray said...

I haven't done any of this yet, but I hope to. I can understand how doing the lessons gave you an appreciation for the physicality of dancing. Great post!

Madeline Bartos said...

I swear I've been living in my character's heads recently. I haven't really been writing so much of a plot, more like oodles of reactions from my characters to the plot. I agree, it definitely is fun, and fantastic advice! Gena sounds like she's awesome. I'm a dancer, and I know it is a ton of fun. (Especially doing ballet in pointe shoes. . . it's just not the safest thing.) ;)

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Awesome post, Shallee. I've never tried out the same hobbies my characters have. I think that is a fantastic idea! Seriously. Great post. :)

Angie said...

Great idea. How fun. I used to be a dancer in another life, and I miss it sometimes. I would love to be Derek for a day, but I don't think anyone is going to let me fly a fighter jet. =)

Elena Solodow said...

I think this is a great method and so necessary. I've currently got a character with a slight limp so I'll try to walk like her a bit, see how she might manage on a daily basis. It always helps make your scenes more vivid.

Julia Darcey said...

This is a great idea, Shallee! I have been thinking about taking martial arts for exactly this reason, since my character spends about half the book learn to kick butt. Plus it's a fun way to expand yourself as a person (uh, and get off the computer).

Also, I love Doug's comment about how you can tell when an author has actually experienced the or place she's describing. It's so much more real.

Crystal Collier said...

See, this is where drama experience comes in handy. I spent YEARS on the stage--studying scripts and figuring out how to be someone else. I know exactly what you're talking about because it's my natural reaction to any fictitious entity. It's impossible to write believable characters if you can't "feel" them.

--Great post!

Amanda Milner said...

I love to get inside my characters' heads. If they are scared, I want to be scared, if they are sad, I want to be sad...if they are staying in a super plush hotel with all the amenities-(heehee) Anyway, whatever they do I want to be able to describe it well enough so a reader can become that person and experience what my characters experience. The MC in my current WIP, I get her, she's a bit of a spaz so I can relate. ;) But one of my sub characters is flippin awesome. (And I'm not being conceited because as many writer's know, the characters tend to write themselves. ;-])She is much bolder, braver and brash (and some other B words☺) than I ever could be. Her name is Lex and I want to get WWLD? tattooed on my wrist! HAHA!

Kari Marie said...

This is a fascinating idea and one I should try! Sounds like you are really getting into Gena - like an actor would research to play a part.

 
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