Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting Into Character

Mindy here. Well, another season of Dancing With the Stars is winding to a close and, finally, I have a way to tie the show to writing :-)

This time around I've tossed my hat into Bristol Palin's ring. Sure she's the underdog, but that's part of the appeal. She's not a star. She's not an actor. She's not used to performing. As a result, I can almost guarantee that she's having to dig deeper than any of her competitors.

Week after week, the judges have lauded the technicality of Bristol's dances, but what they lacked was performance. She wasn't able to let herself go and get into the character of the dance. Last night, she finally had a breakthrough, and perform she did.

Have you ever received feedback on your writing, say from a contest judge, agent, or editor, telling you that while your writing was technically fine, it lacked that spark that allowed them to connect with your characters/story? Basically, it's flat. Why? Most likely, it's because we didn't perform.

As writers, we have to get into character. We can't just gloss over our characters emotions in a given situation, we have go there ourselves. We have to dig deep and let ourselves feel the pain/joy/relief. We have to be vulnerable, authentic, if we want the reader to connect. Not an easy task.

So how do you get into character? What helps you dig deep, past the superficial, to the heart of your character? What encourages you to put it all out there?

Happy Tuesday, y'all.

21 comments:

  1. Bristol was good wasn't she? And it's exactly the same way with writing. I guess anyone can put words on a page, but it's HOW you put them on a page that sets us apart and makes each of us different.

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  2. I can't make a comment on Bristol because I never watch the show, but I can say we can only get better when we stretch our capabilities beyond what others believe what we can accomplish.

    I tend to "interview" my characters before I write their stories. Sort of getting to know them from the inside out. That way I feel as if I hear the way they would say or see the way they would do something and it makes it easier to write the book.

    To help my readers I even post a version of the interviews on my blog In the Chair- theinterviewedcharacter.blogspot.com

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  3. Great post! I always complete a character worksheet on the main characters and usually the sub-characters. Then as I write, I try to ask myself - what will she/he do/say now?

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  4. Mindy, great post! And so true. I think we need to make ourselves cry and laugh while we write if we want the readers to feel the emotion. Sometimes it's difficult to go there, though. But we have to do it or we get that comment (one memorable one I got was that it didn't sparkle!). :) And yes, I remember that comment! LOL

    Eywade, that's a great way to know the character! And I love the idea of posting the interviews! I usually write a journal for each character, as if they're telling about their lives from childhood on up. It's a good way to get to know them inside and out. Thanks for your suggestion!

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  5. Hi Mindy and Missy:

    I think ‘characters’ are too pampered.

    I’ve had an author tell me that she had three major characters, all with first names that began with the letter “C” , because the characters insisted on keeping their original names! Many authors have told me that they had to change scenes because the characters objected to the original scene.

    An author has to decide: who is going to be the boss? The character or the author? I think we need a ‘character nanny’ to whip these characters into shape.

    It’s time to look at characters as actors from central casting. We are the directors and we pick the actors who can best act their parts. No more prima donnas. If a character can’t do the job, fire him or her. It’s time to be the masters of our own creations and not their servants!

    Authors of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but the tyranny of temperamental heroes and heroines!

    It’s time to ‘Author Up’.

    Vince

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  6. Eywade, I've heard of that technique. I'll have to go check out your interviews.

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  7. Edwina, aka Ms. Organization, I should have known you'd have a worksheet:-)Is it a real extensive one?

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  8. Missy, don't you love it when you're reading your own work, even after editing the hooey out of it, and you still laugh or cry at certain parts? I hope that means the reader will too.

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  9. LOL, Vince! But how can we fire our characters? That would be like firing one of my children.

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  10. Author up! Love it, Vince!

    Once I begin writing a scene, if I have complete concentration, I can usually get into character at that point. I also answer questions about my characters and write their backstory before I get started. Usually, I am more comfortable about where the character has been than where they are going.

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  11. Hi Mindy:

    Two words: “Tough Love”!

    Think of it as replacing one bad behaving child for a better behaving child.

    Vince

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  12. Christy, I'm like you. I need to have complete concentration for intense/high emotion scenes in order to do them the justice they deserve.

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  13. Bristol did make it through, much to even her/her partner's shock. But I'm glad for her.

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  14. Vince, I think you just have to set the boundries with them early on and let them know who's in charge. Usually not a problem with my characters. My internal editor, however...

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  15. Hi Mindy:

    This is a fun topic but what I am trying to show in a serious way is that there is a different paradigm for looking at characters. I don’t think any authors think along these lines but knowing these lines exist might be helpful in some situations.

    Vince

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  16. Vince, I've never really had characters take me in different directions. I guess I plot too much and try to follow that layout. But I have had stories change and grow as I've gotten to know my characters better. And I've had endings change as I realize what a character really needs for a happy ending. But that's me making decisions. Not a stubborn or demanding character. :)

    So I guess character's needs and character growth drive the story. But no, I wouldn't allow a character dictate his or her name. My editor gets the final say in that! :)

    You know, Vince, I think sometimes when authors say this, they're probably just talking about writing as pantsers. I imagine they're just sitting down and writing and going wherever the story goes more than actually letting characters force them to do something. At least I hope so! :)

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  17. Hi Missy:

    I think you're right about pantsers letting characters have too much say. It’s almost as if the story is coming from outside themselves -- as a gift -- and they don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.

    But as I like to say: “If you write by the seat of your pants, your bottom is going to have more to say about your story than your brain.” (Don’t let them hear this on Seekerville!)

    Vince

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  18. Vince, I don't think most pantsers allow characters to have too much say. (And a couple of our Faith girls here will shoot me if I do!) LOL What I meant was I think they sometimes talk about their characters that way.

    :) Hey, maybe I can blackmail you with that quote you just gave. What'll you give me not to share with with other pantsers we know, huh???? ;)

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  19. Hi Missy:

    I think those pantsers have a very good idea of my position. : )

    The problem with pantsers is that so many of them really aren’t. The Russians have a saying: “Scratch a pantser and underneath there’s a plotter.”

    Disclosure: Actually the Russians really say: “Scratch a Russian and underneath there’s a peasant.” But, when you think of it, this doesn't lose much in the translation.

    Now I’m in even more trouble! : (

    Vince

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  20. LOL, Vince. Isn't Trouble your middle name? :)

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