Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Getting Inside Your Character's Head

Post by Jerry

A friend is working on her first novel, a horrifying story of a Vietnam vet descending into mental chaos, paranoia and finally collapse.  At least it could have been horrifying, a riveting tale that you couldn’t put down.  Yet the first draft that came to group for critique was dull, almost a still life painted in words.  The story proceeded with lots of analysis and explanation, a lengthy “telling” in a voice best described as “third person enervated.”

Then came the second draft. Wow, what a difference!  The character’s rage came crashing through; in his words, his sharply overdone responses, his growing hatred even for those he once loved.  His mental deterioration appeared in the increasingly minute botherations which drove him off into a tantrum, in the growing plethora of demons he lashed out against, and in his increasingly distorted grasp on reality.  One by one, people in his world became the enemy against which he imagined lashing out.  He would show them all by killing, maybe even ridding himself of all of them through suicide, his final freedom.  Now she had my attention.  Now I could not put this story down.  So I asked how she managed, is just a few weeks to so completely get inside her protagonist’s head.  The transformation had been remarkable.

“When I get stuck, like I did,” she said, “I rewrite the story in the first person.  For a while I can become my protagonist – rage, fears, demons and all.  Then, having uncovered the full emotive content on which the story rests, I turn around and rewrite it in the third person.”  A trick a friend of hers had suggested.

How ‘bout you?  Got any secret pathways into your character’s head?


mooderino said...

Excellent tip.

Moody Writing

Patricia Stoltey said...

This is great advice. It's harder to get inside a character's head when writing third person, so the 1st person exercise sounds like an excellent method to go deeper.

WolfDreamer25 said...

I love your blog, and I have nominated you to receive The Leibster Blog Award.

Lynn said...

That's an awesome tip. I haven't written enough fiction to contribute an idea yet, but I'm listening!

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