Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Getting in Their Heads

My friend once asked me how I got into the heads of the characters I write. I usually use the first person, so the character is as close and personal as possible. I told her about my drama class in high school. We used to do these exercises that involved using props that we thought our characters might have. I fiddled with fake pipes and fedora hats pretending to be a noir detective for class. It was great fun.

What I didn’t realize was that these skills would help me to be a better writer. I find that some of the methods actors use to really understand the character they want to inhabit -- help me with the characters that inhabit my mind. I keep little pieces of detritus that might come from a desk, or a special music box. I had a character in a novel that travels the world stealing back high-technology. She kept coins and seashells from her travels in the book. In real life, I have some of those things from my own travels on the shelf next to my notes for that book.

I try to notice quirks, mannerisms, and personal habits of people and write them down. I have a friend that no matter where he is, he finds paper and folds it into origami animals. You can tell if he’s been in the room because there are tiny frogs on the table or staring at you from coffee mugs. A cop that I knew used to go through a couple of packs a gum a day. I remember him chewing, thinking, chewing, unwrapping…chewing some more. His speech patterns were punctuated with snaps of the gum in his mouth.

All of these methods that actors use are helpful in layering the characters in your own stories. A quirk can make a character memorable, endearing, or even intolerable. Although I only took the drama class for an easy ‘A’, and have no interest in acting, I believe I took away some useful tools from that class. I wonder what insights I might find in the other arts. Come to think of it, I’ve been eyeing a welding and metal art class at my local community college…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great picture. Interesting that you would use acting methods to understand your characters.