In our last installment of How to Get Inside Your Character’s Head for More Authentic Writing, we offered strategies to help you figure out how your character would act and react to the circumstances of a scene. This week, re-read the scene and ask yourself whether the character’s actions and thoughts are simply convenient to your plot or a true reflection of his/her heart and soul. If it reads genuine, congratulate yourself on a job well done. If it still feels like it’s falling flat, try this exercise to add more depth. Ask yourself:
How does my character’s _________ influence the way he/she acts and reacts in this scene?
- Family circumstances
- Economic circumstances
- Education level
- Belief system
- Birth order
- Race or Ethnicity
- Period of history in which he/she lives
Taking the time to answer each of these questions will help you get a better handle on who your protagonist is so that your readers will care about what happens to them throughout your story.
Last week, we encouraged you to do a pre-writing exercise of visualizing a scene before you wrote it. If you had trouble, it might mean that you don’t know your protagonist as well as you think you do. Here is an exercise you can try to help you get a better sense of the central figure to your story.
Consider the following scenario: The coach for your 6th grade PE class has just appointed the two best basketball players in the school to pick teams for a class scrimmage. What would your character think, see, hear and feel if:
- He/She missed the shot at the last game that cost them a win.
- She/He has a massive crush on one of the captains picking the teams.
- He’s/She’s known more for skills with a video game controller than athleticism on the court.
- She’s/He’s been practicing all summer and knows he’s/she’s going to own the court this season.
Jot down your ideas for each character. Then, apply the same exercise for the protagonist of your story. Consider how the character’s life experiences (or lack thereof) would affect everything he or she notices and feels in the circumstances of the scene.
Before you start a writing session, eliminate distractions, close your eyes and picture the setting your protagonist is in. Visualize the play-by-play action and what the character would see, hear, smell and feel. If you want, set a timer during this exercise. Think about what your character would notice and how he or she would react to the events happening. Then, when you have a good sense of the scene, start writing.
This month, spend time developing multi-faceted characters that readers can see pieces of themselves in. Yes, you should consider a character’s physical appearance, mannerisms, family structure, occupation and maybe even his or her favorite color. But for this challenge, dig deeper to figure out your character’s driving want and need.
To help you delve more into this subject, we recommend the following resources to start with:
From K.M. Weiland
From the Story Grid
From Cheryl Klein
Good writing draws us in through relatable, layered characters. Even when those characters are experiencing things we’ve never had to endure, we connect to them through shared emotions. In all likelihood, you’re encountering a variety of emotions as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds. Whether you’re dealing with new feelings or stronger versions of familiar ones, it may be cathartic to journal about your inner thoughts and reflections. Then, when you find yourself writing about a character who is experiencing negative emotions like fear, anxiety or isolation, or positive ones like gratitude, solidarity or generosity, you can return to those journals for inspiration. Even if your characters aren’t facing the same situations that evoked the emotions within you, they can inform your writing as you infuse your characters with an authentic heart.