Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Building a Character from the Inside Out

Did you ever watch the Bravo series, Inside the Actor’s Studio? Before the major network bought the station and ruined it, that is? I used to love to listen to actors describe how they built their characters from the inside out, getting to know every little quirk and nuance, building a complex backstory so they could throw it all away once they stepped inside that character’s skin. In this way, the actor knew instinctively how that character would react in any given situation and would, in effect, become the character.
That’s the most effective way to write from a character’s point of view. Build your character’s history, know the habits and traits and make up the person inside, the quirks that set the character apart from the norm. Then step inside that character’s skin and write.
A workshop at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Conference a few years ago, a session leader advised attendees to close our eyes, sit in a darkened room, if necessary, to get into the moment with the character. Visualize the scene in every detail. Have your protagonist enter the room and voila, a scene emerges. A jumping-off point.
Bestselling author Noah Lukeman (The First Five Pages, The Plot Thickens) provides a few more exercises in his article, Characterization – The Inner Life. To make your character authentic, you must know not only who s/he is, but how s/he would react in any given situation. The true character of the person as exhibited by his/her actions. And thoughts, because for the reader to be invested in your story – truly engaged – the reader must know the character’s feelings.
Presenting the protagonist’s character to the reader is another matter. Brandi Reissenweber’s article, Character Filters, explains that focusing on a particular aspect of that character will help move along the story, and deepen your reader’s understanding of him/her. As she cautions, though, don’t make it the entire perspective, or else you’ll end up with a protagonist who comes across as one-sided, or worse.
Life is complex. Make your characters the same. Dig deep, and it will pay off for your readers. And yourself as a writer.

No comments: