I guess you know the usual advice to make an interview with one of your characters to get to know them better. Sure, you may learn some interesting and useful information that way, but there is another possibility that I like even more. Instead of talking with my characters I rather try to impersonate them. Aside from getting to know this imaginary person, you get used to stepping in their shoes as well, which helps you to make them act authentically when you eventually write your story. And who doesn’t want their characters to act believably, right?
Depending on what works for you, you may want to have a general idea about this character or you may need to go more in depth beforehand. This is completely up to you.
I’d suggest starting with little (if you don’t already have some details on hand) and making this person up on the go. This way you can start with playing your role right away. You don’t need to know their hair color, favorite drink or all their quirks ahead of time. If situations in your play appear where those things are relevant, you can figure that out on the spot.
One thing I found helpful was to figure out your characters motivations. It’s quite hard to play someone whom you know nothing about. If you at least know what motivates a person to act, you have the means to move forward. I’m talking about values and deep interest a.k.a. inner drive. Those can be strong feelings like love and the need to protect someone, or hate and an urge for revenge. They can also revolve around basic human needs like providing food or shelter or – moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – seeking a feeling of belonging or even striving for self-actualization.
Sometimes it’s worth thinking about the story you want to write. Are you working on your protagonist or antagonist? Or do you want to figure out an important side-character? What role do you need them to play? If you already know the general direction your story goes, then you may need to have your characters act a certain way to progress the story. Or you need a specific hole filled. Consider their impact when facing decisions as your character and you’ll make it easier for yourself to fit the finished person inside your novel.
Setting the Stage
Depending on the type of novel you want to write your setting may vary drastic from your everyday life. Which is perfectly fine. You will need lots of imagination anyway.
You can approach this in different ways.
1. Full-on imagination
This is an option if you’re writing about someone whose world is so drastically different that they won’t ever experience a ‘normal human life’. Maybe you’re writing about an alien living on a foreign planet or your story follows the voyage of a Neanderthal. What you can do here is to imagine being this person in their usual surrounding and living their lives entirely in your head.
2. Use supporting environment
If you’re writing about a person traveling through an imaginary world you may be able to get into the mood by going to a similar place. Go to a nearby forest or a big city if that fits the scenery. You can still layer your own imagination over the surroundings, but getting at least similar impressions aids your imagery.
3. Work with what you’ve got
In some cases it’s useful to just use your own reality. Imagine your character being put in your apartment and living their own lives there. Or walk around the city seeing it through their eyes.
Just get started and don’t muse too much about it. Sit down somewhere, close your eyes and imagine being this person. What kind of personality do you have? Are you bubbly and energetic or thoughtful and quiet? Feel this personality spread through your whole body and your mind. Open your eyes and see the world with new eyes. What do you see? What catches your attention?
What do you do with your time? A good starting point honestly is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Do you have free access to shelter and food? Do you need to think about buying something? Or even hunting your dinner? What occupies your thoughts?
From there you can work through different scenarios. What do you think about when you’re alone? What do you feel?
Go through your everyday life pretending to be this character and learn how he or she acts and behaves. Does she know supermarkets? What kind of products would he buy? Does she think about the money she spends or is this of no concern to her?
Talk to other people as your imaginary character. How does he talk? Does he dominate the conversation? Is he listening closely? You can do this with random people if you dare to or you can try something like this with a friend (whom you might want to inform about this beforehand… if they’re not used to quirky behaviour ;))
Then you can think about actual scenarios of your story or at least your story world. How does she fit into the story? What does she do for a living? Does she need to travel a lot? Walk in her shoes and figure out how she ticks, what she cares about and what she wants from life.
Of course it makes sense to write down all of your revelations, because you’ll forget them sooner than later. Depending on how well you keep stuff like that you can do it after you finished your impersonation or you can carry a notebook and write those observations down immediately.
I like this exercise quite a bit, because it’s lots of fun and I honestly enjoy this process. I hope you enjoy it just as much and if you do, please let me know! If you’ve struggled with it, I’d like to know as well. Tips and improvements are always welcome 🙂
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