Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting into your characters' minds

I've written a few middle grade and YA novels, each with its own set of characters. It's not always easy keeping them straight. So, when I revise a particular book, I really need to be able to connect with the characters in that book and not let characters from other books interrupt the party. Obviously, I don't want all of the characters to sound the same or act the same. They are unique individuals with their own quirks or demons or whatever. So, how do I get in the right mindset?

For me, I go into a quiet room and get familiar with the characters. This is especially important if I haven't been around them in a while. I need to hear their voices -- the cadence of their speech, the vocabulary they use, the way they trail off at the end of their sentences, etc. I need to see them -- the way, perhaps, her eyelids quiver when she talks or she habitually tucks her hair behind her right ear or bites her cuticles until they bleed.

I also keep a list of their traits so I can refer to them. For example, if Mags cracks her knuckles when she's nervous, I don't want to make a mistake and have A.J. doing that later in the book. The sheets help me keep things straight.

What works for you? If you are dealing with multiple characters in multiple books, how do you get in the right mindset when you go to work on that particular book? How do you keep them all straight. I'm always looking for great ways to improve the process.

Have a super writing week gang.  


  1. I'm struggling with that a bit. I have to do a revision of my manuscript for voice to be sure my characters sound unique. Your suggestions are good. One thing I've been doing is focusing on the voice of characters more as I read trying to see what works. And I listen to a lot of books on tape and sometimes it's easier to hear the different voices that way.

  2. Nat, great idea to learn from others, either as you read their work or listen to a book on tape.

    Developing different characters' voices is definitely challenging, especially when you have, like me, three different sets of kids you are dealing with from three different books.

    If you don't read your work out loud, I would suggest doing that. I think that helps immensely.

  3. It IS hard to juggle those characters when you are working on multiple projects at the same time. At one point, I was working on revisions to a manuscript for my editor and also writing a screenplay of that same manuscript for a producer. It was trouble enough keeping the plot differences straight in my head -- but I discovered that the characters presented themselves differently in the two mediums. Maggie in the book is not the same as Maggie in the screenplay!

    I find visualization helps me quite a bit. I *see* them in my head. Sometimes I even stand up and act out their gestures, their dialogues. I imagine the person I'm talking to and how they respond.

    It works for me, but it's embarrassing when I get caught at it. ;)

  4. Oh, this is a great topic. I usually have to read my character bios, and re-read what I've written to get back into character.

  5. Dianne, I'm smiling just thinking about you acting out your characters' gestures. But I totally get it.
    And Lanita, I agree with you on rereading the bios over and over to keep everyone straight.