How Do You Do Character?: Scientific Poll Results

Inside your main character
Inside your main character

Flickr: State Library Queensland Creative Commons

Do you become your characters, or do you observe them from outside?

I posed this question to writers in a very special Facebook group back in February and promised to report on my findings.

And no, I wasn’t just being nosy. I was reacting to all the craft books overflowing my bookshelves.

You know how it goes—you read a piece of writing advice and then immediately fall into a Ho-Ho binge because you’re not doing something the right way.

Once again, turns out there is no right way.

A few writers weren’t even aware that they favored one method over another until they tried to answer the question.

Ho_hos

In case you’ve forgotten or never met a Ho Ho.

Here’s my original query and some of the fantastic responses shared by writers with a wide range of experience and styles.

When writing your scenes, are you IN the body of your main character trying to feel/see/hear what she does, OR are you watching her to see what she feels/sees/hears? Curious!

“A bit of both, really. I usually first see the scene like a movie in my head, then I describe it while trying to feel like my character.” ~ Kelly M.

“Listening. Sometimes watching. And then, empathizing.” ~ Wendy G.R.

“I never realized it but yes I become my characters and write their story and feelings.” ~ Wendy T.

“In their body, usually. But it also depends on whether I’m in first person, close third, or omniscient. And what psychological distance I’m trying to convey.” ~Tamara L.

“I am the observer and write down what I see, what comes to me.” ~ Esther L.F.

“I think more in . . . ” ~ Lynne L.

“If writing in first person, I’m in, if writing in third, I’m observing and in.” ~ Dorothy R.

“Great question! Actually both . . . sometimes I feel what she feels and sometimes I try to look how she has to look, feeling it.” ~ Miranda M.

“Inside his or her head. More immediate, more fun to write.” ~ Nikki C.

“Both, but not at the same time. Usually as I write the story/scene that is there I’m in. Then I’ll do another pass from the outside.” ~ Jennifer B.

“Living it as much as I can.” ~ Julie H.

“In. Usually so in I find it difficult to use my character’s name even though it’s third person POV.” ~ Rachel V.

“I don’t even think about it. It’s whatever I wrote.” ~ Linda A.

Woman playing with Barbie dolls

Creative Commons http://www.odditycentral.com/tag/barbie-collection

“I just finished a piece yesterday and was in tears, absolutely as devastated as my MC, feeling what she felt. Sometimes I think they channel through us. Sometimes, though less often, it’s like I’m hanging out with the characters—this is especially true for dialogue—and kind of just transcribe what I hear when they’re talking.” ~ Cristel G.O.

“Depends on which POV I’m writing from, which I never fully realized before. Interesting question!” ~ Cathy M.

“In the room with her which makes writing sex scenes awkward, because then I feel like a voyeur.” ~ Gill R.

“All in.” ~ Sherry Anne

“Totally in. So deep I don’t realize I was in until the scene is complete.” ~ Kiarra T.

“Watching. Definitely watching.” ~ Lisa C.B.

“I try to feel what she feels! I often play music that I feel she would like. That helps.” ~ Maire F.

“My friend calls me a Method Writer. I am IN the body of ALL my characters the entire time while writing, which can get really weird, uncomfortable, and straight-up physically and emotionally exhausting since I write hybrid horror/Sci-Fi/fantasy/speculative fiction, among other things. My husband has even come home and told me I wasn’t speaking like myself, and I’d realize later I was actually speaking in the voice of a character.” ~ Sezin G.K.

“I’m sitting on their shoulder so I have POV and can hear them speaking the words I give them to say.” ~ Sally W.

Scientific Poll Results

Of course I’m a writer so the science behind this is based on pretty fonts:

Inside the character – 46.6%

Both inside and observing the character – 34.9%

Observing the character – 13.9%

Two responders could not confirm their own method (writers!).

And there is no statistical margin of error (see pretty fonts).

My goal was to figure out if I was doing it all wrong. I found myself more of the observer type, but with most everything in this novel writing process, I’m learning as I go.

I’ve spent more time trying to see my book world through my main character’s eyes and that’s made a difference. There is no one right way.

How do you get inside your characters? Are you a biography maker? A note taker? Do you have a favorite worksheet or method you care to share? Would love to hear about what works for you!

 

 

2 Thoughts on “How Do You Do Character?: Scientific Poll Results

  1. Such a great question Suzanne. I found out these past few months that I did both. It was an interesting psychological experiment on myself that was observed during therapy treatments called EMDR (Eye Motioning, Desensitization and Reprocessing). I noticed that when I wrote “outside” watching my character (me–I write memoir), it was in the form of a disassociated state caused by trauma. After treatment I no longer am able to write “outside” me, only inside. It has brought about a complete change of perspective, tone, and quality to my writing.

    • That’s fascinating, Deb! Thanks for sharing – I noticed I was having trouble getting to the heart of my character in an opening scene because I was observing from the outside. This prompted my original question. It’s still not a default state for me but I’m learning so much from going “inside.”

Leave a Reply

My Flash Fiction Breakthrough

Flash of Lightning photo

Flash of Lightning photo

You know how you may have heard the same advice over and over but then a friend puts it in a way that just gets you? I’ve been struggling with story construction in Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories vs. the Novel. I’ve read a dozen books covering topics of want, obstacle, show don’t tell, etc.

In theory, I grasp the concepts. Honest, I do. Be mean to your characters. They have to have something to strive against. What I was missing was a clear way to do this in short fiction. What makes flash fiction different than a short story and a short story different than a novel? How do you DO flash fiction?

Once upon a time

Number of characters, complexity of conflict. All of those generic terms clouded my mind and confused the issue for me. Until I found this link from the Slushpile Avalanche blog.

Using short examples from a few flash fiction pieces, the writer gives clear direction on narrowing the focus, infusing your story with character all while cutting out the fat. I’d published a couple of pieces online (you can read them here) but still felt I was missing the point.

I’m on the fifth draft of a 750-word flash fiction piece. That’s a lot of effort for such a short piece you say? The second draft I barely changed anything. The third almost everything. I read this article and am inspired to further flesh out my main character and bring my setting to life.

Writing better characters

The prompt for my story came from the Writer’s Digest Your Story feature and I will be submitting at the end of this week. I also wrote a 500-word rough draft of a new story for the latest Mashstories competition. This site charges no reading fee and gives feedback on every story. I’ve read some good things about them and will report back!

And yes, I’m still working on the second draft of the novel. I’m counting the story craft and flash fiction writing as part of my 10,000 hours of mastery (hey, it’s a goal even if not everyone believes in Gladwell’s theory).

Have you tried flash fiction? Do you find it easier or harder than short stories/novels? I’d love to hear what you think–leave me a note!

One Thought on “My Flash Fiction Breakthrough

  1. barb armstrong on April 7, 2015 at 10:24 am said:

    As with anything worthwhile, the more you can learn, the better! Spoken like a true Mom huh? Love you

Leave a Reply