“There is some legitimate concern behind the question “how do you write that stuff,” if someone writes “that stuff” very well. People want to know how you can do it. How you can write from the point of view of a killer, or a very psychologically damaged character of one sort or another and bring that character to life.”
Over in my main blog, I wrote today about how writers resemble actors in their approach to characters, and I suggested that the writers who write unforgettable, magical characters are very much like method actors in their approach.
I think there’s more to be said, though, so here I am again. There is a lot to be said for seeking your characters in their own worlds. If you’ve never been to a baptist revival, for instance, then your ability to drop into the character of a poor sinner and be coaxed up that aisle to eternal salvation is going to be lacking.
I’m not suggesting that if you want to write about an LSD trip you should drop acid and hit the park. There are limits in all things. I will say that, if you have experienced something first hand, it removes one step of the difficulty of truly dropping into the mind of a character. Say you DID trip on LSD at some point in your life. Your character is a disillusioned ex-hippie who has self-esteem issues because when he finally “grew up” as his parents called it, he found himself on the outside looking in, trying to be the things he’d once despised.
You may have to work to put yourself into the mindset of this social outsider - a thing you can do through studying - reading - watching television footage and even movies of people successfully portraying such a character. If you can already draw on some of the experiences that character lived, you have a step-up on the task. It’s always good to have a focal point of reality to spin your web around so it remains anchored in the “real.”
This is another aspect of writing what you know. You don’t have to know it from first-hand experience, but if you CAN know it that intimately, you can concentrate more on reacting to the external environment you’ve created for your character and less on looking at the situation through a two-way lens - worrying over both situation AND the possible reactions your character might have. You already know - if you can get into his head - what he will think, and you will know when you react to it through his “lens” what his likely reaction will be. This connection is vital if you want people to remember that character when the covers of the book are closed.
For Nanowrimo, I’d say it’s a good idea to take some time up front, before the writing, and work on those characters. Find the ones you can already emulate in your mind, find your points of empathy, and the weaknesses in that empathy, and do what you can to arm yourself with experience and “real” memory.
Write something that will be remembered.
Write someone you’d like to know.
–whatever you do, every day — write.
Below are the latest posts From Ennui & Other States of Madness - the site dedicated to my short fiction collection by that same name: