Getting into character

It’s not just actors who have to get into character, writers also need to do this. It’s impossible to write believable, realistic characters if you don’t inhabit their bodies, experience their emotions, feel how they move and know how they speak.

Rescued – The poodle’s story.

Rina, the miniature poodle, is the star of this book. I wrote it from her point of view. I had to become Rina so I could write about her life and the guys she lived with, Bayu and me. My challenge was to become each of these characters – Rina, an opinionated, lovable miniature poodle. – Bayu, a thirty-year-old Indonesian, Muslim man, owner of a restaurant and possessed by youthful hormones. – And me, the way Rina might have seen me. For years I became one of these characters as I wrote this book. Bayu got used to me role-playing one of us, but occasionally he’d ask, “Who are you now?” When you read the book, you judge whether I’ve created realistic, believable characters. Let me know if it feels like Rina is telling the story.

The Maiden Aunts

I saw this photo on Facebook in 2015 and started writing a book called The Maiden Aunts. The primary characters include an elderly lesbian couple, a gay couple in their thirties and a few straight people of varying ages and ethnicity. I completed this book in March 2020 so for five years I moved in and out of the invisible bodies of these characters, ensuring each one was realistic and had their own unique voice. I loved the experience, but people entering my writing room thought it strange when they found me acting out one of my characters.

Bayu walked in one day and discovered me lying on the floor. He was sure I’d slipped and fallen, so he helped me back into my chair. I let him, but later explained why I was there. In one scene from the book, I had the seventy-year-old maiden Aunts lying down on the ground under a gum tree.I was acting this out to see how difficult it would be for them and how I would describe it.

My beta readers have praised the characters in The Maiden Aunts. They talk about them as if they’re actual people, each comment rewarding me for the effort I put into making my characters believable, different and memorable. The manuscript is doing the rounds of agents, and I hope to hear soon that one of them loves it as much as I do and wished to be my agent.

Works in progress.

I’m co-authoring a book called, How to lose millions and get it back. It’s a heterosexual couple’s memoir about their fight to regain their wealth after the Global Financial Crisis. I’m sort of ghost-writing and co-writing this book. The couple have sent me photos to help me get into character and they also sent a rough draft of their story. This all helps, but I still need to feel the characters I’m writing about. I’m gay, but I was closeted for 44 years of my life, so I’m experienced at playing straight. My family and close friends sometimes confide that I hadn’t performed that role as well as I’d thought. To safeguard the integrity of this book, I’ve got the actual characters checking my writing and correcting me when I wander into the glitter / fairy zone.

I’m also working on another dog book called, “No More Dogs!” (The NO gets crossed out, but I can’t work out how to do this on the computer.) Once again I am getting into canine rolls, growling, barking and cocking one leg to pee. Not quite, but I am trying to think how my dogs think. This is challenging.

So what am I trying to say?

Before and during the writing of any book, it’s important to know your characters. They must appear real on the printed page, and each character must act and sound different to any other character in the book. Make notes about each character, try speaking like them and act out the things you have them doing. Hopefully, this way you’ll write a better book with believable character.

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6 thoughts on “Getting into character”

  1. Just seeing photos of Rina and your smiling mug make me smile! You are both two of my favorite characters. Pretty believable too. Love, Ray

  2. Perhaps it takes a ‘character’ to create great characters! You do it masterfully, Steve ? I love this post and can just see you on the floor pretending to be an 80-year-old lesbian…almost! I wish you huge success with your books. Your writing has always struck me as a labor of love.

    1. Thanks Sherry. I get so much fun out of writing. Success would be nice, but it’s not everything. Living the characters can play with your head sometimes, but it is also fun. Hugs. Steve

  3. Thank you Steve for your practical writing hints. They say that a good actor will delve into the childhood of a character in order to portray it convincingly. I did a workshop on characterisation once and one of the exercises was to pack a travel bag for your character. The items should reflect psychological make up. e.g. anxiety (anti-bacterial sprays). Also, what she doesn’t pack is important, eg no books or little underwear. Some of the other things they asked to list were character flaws, idiosyncracies, and prejudices(!)
    The picture of you on the floor acting like an 80 year old lesbian is one I won’t dwell on for long however.
    Keep up the good work Steve you are saving me from complete iso brain death.

  4. I love your characters and love hearing about how you create them. Glad you’re having fun with them and hope they’re soon out in the world so lots of other people can meet them.

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