Acting and writing are a lot more similar than you’d think. After all, both professions require you to get into your character’s head in order to present them in a realistic way.
Hollywood stars are always in the news for their odd and interesting method acting techniques. Some of them gain or lose weight to get into character while others give up life with running water and electricity to get into the spirit of a historical drama. There have even been actors who have injured themselves on purpose in the name of embracing their roles!
I’m not suggesting that we as writers should do anything so drastic! There are definitely ways to better understand our characters that don’t involve pain, hunger, and discomfort. Here are a few suggestions on how to get into your character’s head (without giving up food and wi-fi!):
- Create a music playlist for all of your characters. Whether it’s compiling songs that make you think of that character or tunes you think that character would likely listen to, this is a fun way to get into the spirit of your story! You could also make a “movie soundtrack” for your book. I’ve done this before and it has helped me better visualize scenes.
- Cook a dish your character would enjoy. Maybe it’s something they actually eat in the story or it’s just a meal they prefer. If the reader gets to see them eating it on the page, you could use this experience to expand on descriptions of the taste, flavors, and scents.
- Pick an activity your character does in the book and do it, too! This is probably a cinch for contemporary writers and a little bit harder for us SFF folks, since dragons to ride and robot laboratories to recon aren’t readily available (at least not where I live). But get creative! Take a horseback-riding or archery lesson, try the climbing wall at the gym, swim in the lake, go to the local museum and check out a related exhibit, etc.
- Smell your world via candle. There’s a reason why book-inspired candles are so popular – smell is a powerful and emotionally charged sense. If your book is set in a forest, write with a pine-scented candle burning. Choose candles that smell like the flowers your character’s crush gave them, the clean laundry they pull out of the dryer at that pivotal scene, or the beach where your book takes place.
- Envision your character. You can do this by drawing, commissioning artwork, or creating a Pinterest board of people who might look like your character. Imagine physical characteristics that define them as you look at these pictures: do they always quirk the left eyebrow? Do they have a lopsided smile that tilts upward on the right side? Do they have dimples or scars? Do they play with their hair?
- Act out your scenes, or just read the dialogue out loud. I tend to talk to myself a lot and even read aloud lines of dialogue (with FEELING of course!) when I’m drafting. As long as nobody else is around, it’s fun! This is a good way to get in touch with the emotions of the scene. How should your character be feeling when they are doing or saying whatever they’re doing or saying? How can you convey this and shade in the scene for a more realistic feel?
Those are just a few ideas on how to better connect with the characters and world in your book. It’s important for writers to feel that these elements of their story are realistic, because this will come out in our writing and be transferred to readers!
Do you engage in any of these “method writing” techniques? Any other suggestions on how to immerse yourself in your characters and world?