Well, not the bird, necessarily, but, you know, the whatever.
Say you’re writing a story about a murderer. You know you have to put yourself in the place of the murderer: Why is killing acceptable/inevitable/enjoyable? What does it feel like to think about it, to plan it, to do it, to remember it?
But that’s still pretty thin. Because a murderer isn’t A Murderer. A murderer is Bill or Jolene. A murderer is an otherwise regular person who kills. Okay, yeah, possibly a wackadoo swivel-eyed loony, but probably just a regular person who does that thing. A murderer is somebody’s child, spouse, employee/employer, co-worker. A murderer has a paper carrier, a mail carrier, a regular cashier at the grocery, neighbors. You’re always hearing people who know murderers interviewed, saying, “Oh, he was so sweet!” or “I always felt like there was something wrong there.” That’s because a murderer has social interactions, bad hair days, kids they buy band candy from.
That’s not to say all this needs to go into your story, but it needs to go into your head and heart — in my opinion — but some of that might impact how that character behaves that is in the story. It can make your character a real, rounded person, not a Murderer sock-puppet.
You can’t just think, “What would it be like to kill?” You have to think, “What would it be like to be this person who kills?”
To be less grisly, it’s the same for any character. What would it be like to be this person who falls in love? What would it be like to be this person who lives on this particular space station? What would it be like to be this person who gets a job teaching in this particular inner city school?
Sure, you can skirt around it by asking, “If I were in love / on a space station / teaching, what would I be like?” That’s okay. That works. But that runs the risk of your making the character an idealization of the best of yourself and either eliminating or glossing over the flaws that make a character really interesting.
Much better to take some time to sit staring into space and getting into the zone — the zone where you try to step into somebody else’s skin, try to experience somebody else’s emotions, think someone else’s thoughts.
It’s kind of creepy.
Nevertheless, the best books and stories and movies and television shows give you the kind of quirky, specific speech and action that make the stories and characters captivate you and stay with you for-like-EVver.
I’m guesting today at about 10:00 am EST at the blog of Armand Rosamilia, a writer of horror and a fellow fan of that magnificent culinary treasure, the White Castle slider. Come on over, leave a comment, and read the other posts he’s generously put up from other Imaginarium guests.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Imagine being that cat. Why on earth are you eating bird seed?