Getting Into Character

Posted by: Margay Leah Justice
Nora's Soul by Margay Leah Justice

Nora's Soul by Margay Leah Justice

I have a confession to make. I hear voices in my head. Now, under normal circumstances, this confession would make one question their sanity and perhaps lead to years of intensive therapy. But I left out an important part of the confession: I am a writer. The voices I hear in my head are those of the characters that live there, in the land of my imagination, toying with my gray matter until I finally tease them out and onto the page. And there is the secret, at least for me, of characterization. I have to be able to hear the voices before I can get a fix on the characters. 

As anyone who takes a pen to paper will tell you, characterization is an integral part of the story. You can have a mediocre plot, a tried and true plot, and yet still make it come alive with fascinating characters. Likewise, boring characters can sink a good plot. Just ask any reader what kept them enthralled in a book and more often than not they will give you a detailed description of…the characters. What do you remember most about Romeo and Juliet? The intricacies of the plot – or how passionate the lovers were for each other? What about the movie Titanic? What remains fixed in your mind, the fact that the ship sank after striking an iceberg or the ill-fated love affair between Jack and Rose? 

Characters define a story; they are the backbone of the plot. Everything that happens within the story depends upon the type of characters that populate it. So the writer owes it to the reader to give him or her characters they will not forget. Characters that will live within them long after the last page is read and the book is closed. Characters that make them want to revisit that book again and again. How? For me, it is the simple matter of feeling that way about the characters myself. After all, if I can’t feel passionate about my characters, how can I expect my readers to? And so I listen to my characters. 

For me, listening to the way they speak, the words they use, is an integral part of characterization. That is how I “get into” character. I playact in my mind. Visualize the character in a scene and play with her emotions. It helps to imagine a certain actress playing the character in a movie, to run the scene in my head like it’s a filmstrip. How does she sound? How does she stand? What does she look like when she’s angry? These are all key ingredients to characterization. You have to think of them as real people, full-bodied and well-developed. When you start wondering how your character would feel about a certain situation or how she would handle a certain crisis, then you have done your job. If you can write a line of dialogue and on a second pass realize that your character would never say that, or at least not in that way, then you’re totally in synch with your character and are one step closer to remaining true to them. 

At this point, you might be thinking that’s all well and good, but how do you get so in tune with your characters? Another good tool that I use, in addition to the filmstripping, is the character interview. This is a fun and cool exercise for the writer because we never know just what our characters are going to say until we ask the questions. As evidenced in an interview of one of my characters – Dante, from Nora’s Soul – when he was interviewed by Pat Bertram http://patbertram.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/pat-bertram-introduces-dante-the-hero-of-noras-soul-written-by-margay-leah-justice/. Suffice it to say that Dante’s true nature leapt right off the page from the moment of his introduction – and he didn’t let up once. Not only did this make for an interesting interview, it made the character more memorable. 

Why not try it for yourself? You just never know what you might learn when you open up your mind to the voices in your head. 

Margay Leah Justice is the author of Nora’s Soul, published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. To learn more about the author, visit her website at http://margayleahjustice.com. Nora’s Soul is currently available at Amazon.com.

 

12 Responses to “Getting Into Character”

  1. Elaine Cantrell Says:

    Thanks for a very useful post.

  2. Margay Leah Justice Says:

    Elaine, thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m happy you enjoyed my post.

  3. Christine Husom Says:

    Wonderful! I, too, hear the characters speaking and sometimes they surprise me by what they say!! Keep writing, Margay.

  4. J.K. Coi Says:

    Hi Margay! Great post, I love hearing those voices in my head. When they’re not there, I feel awfully lonely :)

  5. Margay Leah Justice Says:

    Christine, thanks so much for stopping by! Glad to have you here and that you found what I wrote useful.

  6. Margay Leah Justice Says:

    J.K., I’m so happy you stopped by! Thank you for reading my post. I feel the same way about not hearing the voices – I like having internal conversations with my characters.

  7. Amy Gallow Says:

    Like you, I consider characterization a basic building block for any story, but our methods of realization differ. If the story requires certain characteristics, I go back and imagine what experiences would create them, building my character from the moment of their birth until they appear in the story, giving them layer upon layer of experience until their “voice” emerges in my mind, colored not by some star, but by their past.
    This is true of hero, heroine, villian, and the rest, reducing me to a recorder of events rather than creator.

  8. Margay Leah Justice Says:

    Oh, believe me, Amy, by the time I hear the voices of my characters, I know a lot about them. The way they were raised, where they grew up, their position in the family. It’s just that, if I can’t hear their voices in my head, I tend to slip a little away from their character. And using actors is, for me at least, a good tool for putting a face to the voice and visualizing the character. I do realize that everyone’s process is different. That’s why I like to read how others approach their writing. But I think you have me beat in the details department! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your comment. I appreciate the feedback.

  9. Ing Says:

    Hi Margay…welcome to WOB. Sorry for not being able to stop by earlier. I hope you’ve enjoyed your time here today.

    I was trying to find info on Nora’s Soul but wasn’t successful. Could you tell us a what the book is about?

    BTW loved your post! Thanks again for visiting.

  10. Jacques Says:

    This was an interesting post. I too visualize my characters, the way they dress, move, talk, and how they interact with other characters in the story. I’ll have to try the interview, it sounds fun.

  11. Margay Leah Justice Says:

    Ing, thank you so much for having me here! I really enjoyed my time here. Per your request, here is a blurb for Nora’s Soul:

    When angels of light and dark collide on earth…
    Once he held a favored position in the heavens. But one moment of weakness casts Dante out and now he is cursed to walk the earth, collecting the souls of vulnerable women to buy his way into hell.
    All hell breaks loose…
    But standing in his way is Peter, an angel of light. Peter is everything Dante is not. Pure, above reproach. And determined to prevent Dante from achieving his goals. Peter will stop at nothing to protect the souls in his charge, even if it means achieving the impossible – leading Dante back onto the right path.
    And no one is safe from the fall-out.
    Nora Kendall believed in angels. Once. But then she lost her brother to cancer despite all of her prayers – and she lost her faith in all things angelic. Now, she is a lost soul who wanders through life like a sleepwalker, playing it safe and leaving the risk-taking to others.
    Kyle Cameron is one of those risks. Burned by a bad marriage, his only concern now is providing a stable life for his children, who are left motherless by the unexpected death of his wife. This means working overtime to grow his architectural firm into a viable business – and leaving the care of his children to the care of someone he trusts. Despite his past connection with Nora, Kyle isn’t certain that she’s the right person for the job. He also doesn’t want to reconnect with her and repeat history.
    But fate – and the machinations of two angels – has other ideas.

    Enjoy!

    Available from Amazon.com

  12. Margay Leah Justice Says:

    Jacques, thank you so much for reading ad commenting on my post. As I said before, I really do like reading about the process of other writers. Creativity is a fascinating thing, the way we develop ideas even more so. Be careful of the interviewing technique – it can be addictive!

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting