Your characters may live in your head, but how well can you get into theirs? My guest today, Sarah Fox, has six unexpected ways to get to know your characters and discover aspects of their lives you may never have considered otherwise. Take it away, Sarah!
As readers, we all know why we love our favorite characters: they feel more real than people we know in our lives. We can tell you about their big dreams, their weird quirks, their favorite things, and, more importantly, how they felt after that killer breakup. As writers, we know characters feel real to readers because they feel real to the writer.
The tricky part? How to get to know your characters so well that the readers feel closer to them than their own best friends.
Well, you are in luck, because I have discovered six ways that help me inhabit my characters.
1. Remember When You Felt The Emotion
Let’s say your character just lost a parent and is feeling intense grief. How do you effectively convey that pain? You remember the time you suffered a loss and write from that place. What if you fortunately haven’t experienced the death of a parent? Then you think of another loss (like the death of a pet), and you magnify it.
While there is a scale to emotion, almost everyone has experienced most emotions at least once. Just tap into an experience you had and increase/decrease the intensity of it based on the circumstances in the book.
2. Get to Know Where He or She Lives
If you can afford it, I recommend that you visit where you character lives. Sure, you can Google some images, but there is nothing quite like seeing a place in person. You can actually taste the mocha at the local coffee shop or smell the flowers at the florist. You can also look around and see what the people are wearing. You can even listen in on a few conversations to get a sense of dialect and what people like to talk about. You can also walk around and double-check your facts so locals won’t notice your mistakes when they read your book.
3. Shop for the Character
This is my favorite way to get to know a character: I pretend to shop for them (no, I don’t pull out my credit card and make a purchase; I window shop). Maybe this why all my characters love Kate Spade bags and designer dresses. In all seriousness, I think it is important to go into physical stores and look around. You will see pieces of clothing, accessories, or gadgets that you would never think of that might be crucial to your character’s life.
If you are looking at clothing, I recommend you try it on. You might find those shoes really pinch your feet, which is a detail you can add in your novel. If you are looking at something like a chair, sit in it. Is it is comfortable or hard? There is yet another fact you can put into your book.
4. Make Some Phone Calls
Is your character a famous artist, but you have never picked up a paintbrush? Call an artist (Google is your best friend), and politely request to have a call with him or her. Then ask all the questions you can think of about oils and watercolors. Don’t forget to ask questions beyond the technical: ask questions about lifestyle and habits as well.
This also works well for people who live where your character does, enjoys hobbies that your character loves, or is the race or gender of your character. If you are writing about someone very different from yourself, research is required.
Most people are kind and will help you out. If you get a “no,” move on to the next person. Don’t forget to send a thank you note with a little gift card inside!
5. Get Cookin’
The way to a character’s heart is through his or her stomach. Okay, that might sound a bit far-fetched, but it is true. Food affects someone’s quality life more than anything. Don’t believe me? Have you ever had coffee right before bed? I bet you didn’t sleep too well that night. Or maybe you had greasy food before a big exam, and, as a result, had a hard time concentrating. Or maybe that green smoothie you drink in the morning fuels you for your morning run. For better or for worse, food affects people.
So try your character’s food habits. Let’s say your character loves eating chocolate all the time. Eat a lot of chocolate (oh, I know we suffer for our art). Do you feel energized and happy? Or do you crash two hours later? Incorporate that into your story. Similarly, if your character has eggs for breakfast every day, eat eggs for breakfast every day. When do you start getting hungry again? Incorporate this information into your novel.
6. Learn Something New
Does your character love ice-skating, but you have never tied up a skate? This is your chance to take your friends to the local rink and dry gliding on the ice. Maybe your character loves the piano. Teach yourself how to play chopsticks. Whatever the hobby, this is a great opportunity to try one yourself. Who knows? You might adore yoga so much that you become a regular at the Saturday morning classes.