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I love stories with a deep point-of-view, stories where you really get deep into a character’s head. By the end of those stories, I feel like I know that character. I think about them afterwards, wonder about them. Sometimes (can I admit this on the internet?) I even talk to them in my head after I finish reading. There’s one hero, in particular, I talk to in my head on a regular basis (shut up, you know you do it too!)
I’ve been reading a wide variety of books recently. Some have stuck out in my mind, and others I’ve read and set down without thinking about again. One I read recently was brilliantly plotted, had a great theme, and excellent writing and pacing. But I didn’t identify with the characters. I kept thinking, this should be such a good book. On paper, it had everything, but at no point, was I drawn into the story.
Another book was less well-written from a technical standpoint. There were plot holes and adverbs and sentences of telling. Yet I couldn’t put it down for a second. When I did have to put it down, my head was swimming with the characters – what were they thinking? Feeling? What would they do next? Would they get their happy ending?
The difference was the characters – I knew them, I loved them, and I couldn’t rest until I knew how their story ended, and I couldn’t have cared less about the writing itself.
So as a writer, to get to that character depth, we have to know that character really well. To other writers, getting to know a character sounds like a normal, necessary part of writing. To non-writers, it sounds a little nut-so.
For instance, last week, I was struggling with a character. I probably had that squinty ‘what the hell am I doing?’ look on my face, because Mr. Coxswain politely said, “Everything going okay?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t really have a handle on Naomi’s emotions right now.”
*weird look out of the corner of his eye* “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. I just need to be her for a while today.”
*weird look takes on a distinct ‘am I going to have to commit her?’ flair* “And, uh, how are you going to do that?”
“You know, just sit real still and be her.” At this point, I ran off, upstairs. Half an hour later, the hubs carefully stuck his head around the bedroom door, to find me lying on the bed, perfectly still, and staring at the ceiling.
“How’s it going?”
“Really good! Naomi’s been numb for a long time. And bam! She’s pissed. It’s a big shock to the senses.”
“Oh. Well, then. Good.” *at this point, he began thumbing through the phone book for any ads that read, ‘Have a crazy wife? Send her here!’
Luckily, he didn’t find any such ad (apparently mental health facilities use some other marketing strategy), and I’m writing away with Naomi’s emotions on a better track.
There are plenty of other ways to get in touch with a character’s emotions or stories. So, let’s hear it! Anybody else use my insane method? How do you get to know your characters? Which characters stand out in your mind, long after you set the book down?