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Thread: Getting in characters' heads

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW satyesu's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2009

    Getting in characters' heads

    Do you have any tips? My Emotional Quotient has to be really low. Half the time I can't even read real people. How can I get in tune with what my characters think and, for that matter, make them feel at all?

  2. #2
    Did you see my bag? AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Put your characters in an absurd situation and have them talk it out. It is just an idea, but it may help you understand where they are coming from.
    So, I have this blog. It's here
    I tweet too.

  3. #3
    Wielder of Leiyin and llamas smellycat6464's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    behind you

    Joking aside, this doesn't seem to be the type of question that can be resolved by reading a reply on a forum. Hopefully, we can point you in the direction of enlightenment.

    If I am reading your question correctly, you are trying to make the reader and the POV more in sync? I think the answer to your question is something called "narrative distance," which is the distance (excuse me defining something with itself) between audience and POV. It's best to get that distance as close to 0 as possible if you want to establish strong rapport.

    How to do that? It can be tricky. I know I struggle with it. I even asked a question on here a while ago about it and I got some great advice (you can search it up if you want to read through it yourself)

    Some of the things I took away from that discussion is something called filtering, which is the process of using filter words (saw, heard, smelled, usually "sensing" words, if I am correct)

    What reads better, to you?
    (potential gore/grossness alert)

    -Bob saw countless mangled bodies in the hospital wing as he ran through the doors. Bob could smell the fetid gore smeared over the walls and floor. Someone wrote "GOD HELP US" in blood on the wall. He heard a soft, gurgling noise behind him. He spun, and watched the half-eviscerated corpses of children slowly crawl and slither toward him, very much alive. Bob felt an indescribable pain as a young zombie gnawed into his arm that plagued him until everything went black.

    -Bob dashed into the children's ICU wing. Turning a corner, he slipped, and landed in a pool of something far from sanitary. He spat the bitter, metallic-ish slime from his mouth. Blood. He scrambled to his feet, frantically wiped the semi-congealed gore from his lab coat and glasses. He put his glasses on, again, and then wished he hadn't. The hallway was painted red with shredded, fetid flesh. Countless mangled bodies were strewn about the wing, and someone had painted "GOD HELP US" over a mural of Winnie the Pooh characters with something other than brown-red fingerpaint.
    A gurgling voice behind him interrupted the prayer. "Bluuurrrgg....brainz..."
    He spun. A small boy dragging an oversized elephant doll skulked towards him with the grace of rigor mortis.
    Okay, neither is really all that splendid. I just pulled this from my ass on the spot. Excuse the morbidity and silliness, but I like exaggerated examples, and I just finished season 1 of walking dead, so zombies are on my mind.

    Anyway, the first bit sounds like someone recalling a list of boring things they did at work today. "Work was fine...first I did this....then I saw that..then there were bodies in the hall...what about you, honey?"
    homework assignment- where did you detect filtering? how would you fix it?

    But yeah, filtering is hard to avoid. I may have even did a little of it in the second draft, but I tried my best not to. It was tempting to stick in those filter words, because it comes easier, to me, at least. But that increases narrative distance. I recommend you do some google searches on narrative distance and filtering

    As for getting in tune with your characters...prepare for a lame one with them. Take your eyeballs out, put them someplace that you won't forget, and take your POV's eyeballs and perform an ocular transplant. Do one for the brain, too. This requires a great deal of imagination, which I'm sure you have because why else would you be writing a story

    I hope this helped. Happy writing!
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  4. #4
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Louisville, KY
    It helps if you think of them as real people, maybe even compare your characters to real people you know. Every character has their own dreams, ideas and fears. What are they?

  5. #5
    space opera-popcorn lover!
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Off the shoulder of Orion, not far from Belfast.
    I act them out, walk around as them for a while. Also, I try not to use veil words like felt, though, watched, anything that distances me from the action.
    @jozebwrites - Twitter

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  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    I like to act out what I've written, and get inside their heads that way, and ensure they are thinking and acting realistically, as someone would in whatever situation they happen to be in.

  7. #7
    illiterate primate Bing Z's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    New Jersey
    I once read a story about an 18th Century Philly teacher's Wild Wild West adventures. She decides to quit her boring life, buys a pistol, practices for an hour in her backyard, then hops on a train and heads West. In a town where she stays over, she witnesses two guys raping a woman in a back alley. She shoots them dead and finds out the woman's also dying. She loots them (why not?) and returns to her hotel. That night another big fella breaks into her hotel room trying to rape her. She shoots him dead and loots him, then goes on with her trip. That's when I quit.

    The whole thing felt like playing an RPG computer game. Shoot, loot, move on. There's no emotion at all. I remember the first time I killed a computer character controlled by a human in an online game (after he pk'ed my friend), my hands were shaking and my palms were sweaty. It was just a game and I only killed some pixels (and it wasn't even hardcore). Imagine killing real people for the first time!

    I think what you can do is to put yourself in that situation, but with criteria you've set for that particular char (a sissy teacher, a former Navy SEAL struggling to adapt to normal life, a psychotic geek used to get bullied, a rape victim whose perp's still on the loose, etc) and say to yourself: what would you do under this circumstance? Will you shake, hum a lullaby, shrug off, or what? Each of your char should react differently based on the background you've assigned him/her. Write these actions/reactions instead of loot and move on.

    Read and notice how other authors do in their books. Watch (good) movies and pay attention to how the (good) actors act/react. Evesdrop to others while you're in public places and watch their body languages. It takes time and practice.

  8. #8
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2005
    How do I get better at knowing what makes characters tick?

    You asked that question back in April 2012, Satyesu, received over 20 responses and don't appear to have returned to that thread (or others) after starting it.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  9. #9
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    In the land of cheese and chocolate
    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    Do you have any tips? My Emotional Quotient has to be really low. Half the time I can't even read real people. How can I get in tune with what my characters think and, for that matter, make them feel at all?
    Think of writing as roleplaying. You have to pretend to be the POV character. This does not require any ability to "read" real people. It only requires enough imagination to play make-believe for awhile.


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