Although the wonderful character of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird has acquired some new nuances since the publication of Go Set A Watchman, his early wisdom still stands, as does his advice to his little girl, Scout:
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
One of the most fun – and powerful – things about writing is living someone else’s life. This is art’s great act of compassion. If you do it well, your readers will feel so close to your protagonist that they will live through that character with you and see the world as he does.
This imaginative inhabitation is a skill, one which takes practise and effort – an effort which needs to be renewed each time you bring a new character to life.
Regardless of how much or how little time you have to write today, make headway in your story by walking in your protagonist’s shoes.
From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, think like your character thinks, and, as far as is possible, make the kind of decisions he would make. How does he takes his coffee? What sandwich filling does he choose for lunch? Which seat does he go for on the tube – or does he stand and let someone else have his seat?
Imagine how your character would react to an email that comes in, a telephone call, a conversation in the lift, a meeting, an item on the news. Think about what she would say in response and, if you’re brave enough, adopt that response yourself and say your character’s words out loud.
Think about what facial expressions your character would adopt, how she would walk, her intonation, her mannerisms.
Be like an actor who, every time he appears on stage, must climb into the skin of the character he needs his audience to believe is him.
This is one of the most profound ways of getting to know the details of your character: her likes, her dislikes, her values, her priorities, her strengths and weaknesses, her desires, her hopes and fears – and all those tiny details that make her real.
And then, when you have five minutes, sit down and write a new scene from your character’s point of view and see how having walked around in his shoes for the day has makes your writing stronger and your character more believable.
Read. Write. Love. x