How to get inside your character’s head

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Step 1: Think of a character

The first thing that you obviously must do is to think of a character that you would like to write about. Now, this may sound easy i.e. George was 5’10 and average weight, worked in an office from nine to five, had a wife named Martha with three kids, and likes to eat Papa John’s and watch NFL. Yes, this a character, but do we really want to read about George? I think most of us would agree that no, we would not. So how do you make someone a little more interesting than Ol’ George? One word: complexity. A character must be complex in order for that character to make an impression on the reader, and that’s what the ultimate goal is. There are several ways in which to make a character complex, which we will discuss in the next step.

Step 2: Make your character interesting

Where do you most often see a homeless person eating dinner? You’re probably thinking maybe McDonald’s, out of a can, or not eating at all. But what if you saw a homeless person dining at a five-star restaurant, and dabbing his scratchy beard with a silk napkin. And what if that homeless person drove a Bentley to his box behind the King Sooper’s? This hobo has just gotten a great deal more interesting. The point I’m trying to make is that when the character’s appearance is conflicting with his thought’s or actions, it makes the reader wonder how or why this is happening. This can be applied to all sorts of characters: alter boys who deal cocaine, gangsters who volunteer at kitten shelters, or nanas who drop ecstasy. I’m not sure about you, but I would much rather read about these people than their stereotypes.

Step 3: Get inside their head

Now that you have your character and you know what makes them interesting, you must now actually have to start to write about them. To make this character three-dimensional though, you must know how that character would function in difference sorts of situations.

One tequnique I use to get to know my character is to map out a typical day in their life. I will use my ecstasy-dropping grandmother as an example. Nana wakes up at 5:30 A.M. every morning right next to her orange tabby, Simon. She feeds Simon and gives him his flea medicine for taking her own heart, bladder, kidney, liver, and arthritis medication. She has a small meal of a boiled egg and toast and then teeters he way downstairs to check the mail. She makes French Breakfast tea in an iron kettle and reads Jane Eyre until the late afternoon where she goes upstairs to change her clothes. She puts on a tie-dye shirt with pink fishnet leggings and spandex gloves that go all the way up her arms. She breaks some glow sticks around her neck and then goes outside to hop in the Mustang owned by her twenty-three year old boyfriend, Blane. They drop two pills of ecstasy each while doing ninety on the freeway on the way to Coachella. They party until 4 A.M. when Blane drops her back off at her house. She changes into her nightgown and slips into bed, while Simon snuggles next to her. She then wakes up at 5:30 A.M. to start it all over again.

Having this basic foundation of what your character would do on an average day will help you determine how they would act if the situation they were in changed.

Step 4: Write

Now that you know your character like you know yourself, you can finally do what you have wanted to all along, and that is to write!


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