Fiction Writing: Become Your Character

1280px-little_women_lobby_card_1933“Write what you know…”

By Lydia Oyetunji

I started writing fiction at a young age. The first time I wrote for an audience was for a school assignment. If you can, in fact, call your literature teacher ‘an audience.’ Nevertheless, you can imagine how nervous and excited I felt. In a way, this would be my literary debut. My short story would be the best in my class, earning me an “A” as well as a pat on the back. My paper was typed without error and included all the bells and whistles; it had a cover sheet neatly tucked inside of its plastic folder.

A week later my composition was returned to me riddled with red ink and a big fat ‘C.’ I was disheartened by the look of my wounded paper and the letter grade it wore. How could I fall short in mastering something that I love so much? My brain begged for answers to many unasked questions. The back of the cover sheet gave many explanations for why it bled profusely. The message that read,” Become your character,” sparked confusion and more questions.

  • How do I become my character?
  • Does becoming the character have a more potent effect on the story?

Have you noticed that every character you give birth to contains personality traits similar to you or someone you know? Maybe your characters are bland, boring, and provide no interest to a reader at all. No matter the genre, when your writing involves characters there is a ‘method’ to resurrecting the dead in the literary world. We as writers envy those with the creative aptitude to develop a person according to whom they wish they were or based on an alter ego. Their characters are the most interesting individuals in the world and keep us turning the page. All we have to do is realize this is a talent all literary artists contain. My love for learning and research led me to an interesting concept for becoming the character.

“Method Writing” is defined in the urban dictionary as a technique of writing where the writer or author identifies emotionally with a character in the story thus assuming their persona. This method allows readers to relate through the five senses of the character. Examples of method writers that we are familiar with would be:

To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn By Mark Twain

Moby Dick By Herman Melville

How should I develop characters for my story?

Personally, I like to begin with a character biography. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. What is important is that you have a process in place for character development. Whatever method you choose, it will link back to a formal or informal character biography, most of the time. You should have the ability to visualize them and know their personality. Give them life, make him/her as real as possible. Ask yourself these questions: Do they have a favorite song, color, or a hobby? What would they look like if you walked by them on the street? Can you imagine yourself interviewing this person for your future novel? Would your readers find this him/her readable? Method Writing may sound very familiar. In many ways it similar to an acting technique called ‘Method Acting.’

Method Acting is a technique of acting in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a part that is based on the system evolved by Stanislavsky.

Relecting back to my early school experiences, fortunately, Mrs. Lamar was also a theater student; she brought much of this knowledge into teaching literature. Her recitation of poetry and prose took me on a journey. Needless to say, I learned valuable pointers for becoming my character. Her tone of voice and mannerism would change to accommodate whatever she was reciting. Mrs. Lamar taught that when you read or wrote about a character you should no longer be yourself but be the character. Allow your imagination to take over. In time I learned as much as I could. My papers no longer looked as if they were victims of a drive-by shooting.

As writers, we are not only creative geniuses and actors but also a little mentally challenged. We are not afraid to walk the mental tightrope. We have this innate ability to change our personalities to support our characters. Inserting ourselves into the scene, escape from our mind and body, becoming the serial killer, the lawyer, or the rogue cop. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and live in a realm you would not want to visit. A character who is undoubtedly believable to you will be credible and entertaining to readers. Becoming your character will not only turn your novel into a bestseller, in some cases, but you may also pen the next award winning television series or movie.

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Marilyn L. Davis

Marilyn is a recovering addict with 28 years in abstinence-based recovery. She opened and ran an award winning women's recovery home from 1990-2011. Closing the house gave her time to write for a larger audience at From Addict 2 Advocate, where she is the Editor-in-Chief. She is also the Assistant Editor at Two Drops of Ink, encouraging other writers to share their creativity and talents. She believes in the power of words and knows that how something is said is just as important as what is said. She is a charter member of the Cult of the Paper, which just means that she's been reading for a long time. Also, she is not embarrassed to profess her love of words, wit, and wonder. Her writing at Two Drops of Ink tends to be encouraging, full of alliterations, humor and as one fan put it, "Generous advice and common sense." She is also the author of Therapeutic Integrated Educational Recovery System (TIERS). She is the recipient of the Liberty Bell Award, given to non-attorneys and judges for their work within the Criminal Justice Systems and in 2008, Brenau University created the Marilyn Davis Community Service Learning Award, given to advocates in wellness, mental health and recovery.

22 comments

    • I love daydreaming as well. It was a problem growing up and sometimes it’s an issue with family. LOL:) It’s just the way writers minds work. I love pretending as a technique, the only issue is people think you’re weird if you are not careful.

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  1. Hi, Lydia. Thanks for giving us permission and directions on writing fiction. Nana Jane is my fictional character here at Two Drops of Ink. She says all of the things I either didn’t know to say to the grandkids, or wished I’d said at the time. She’s part me and part relatives in Indiana. Channeling my grandmother, aunts and uncles.

    I think a Nana Jane letter is bubbling up in my brain as I write this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like Nana Jane! I thought she was real. LOL!!! You definitely became that character! Do I sense a Fiction post? I’m working on mine now. I hope to have it completed by Friday, I’m quite sure Scott will have to downsize it a bit. You know I can be a little long winded. 🙂

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  2. In my novella I dared to write as two male characters, an aspiring writer with a failing career and marriage who hears and writes the story an old man tells starting when he is a lonely young boy. I don’t know how well I succeeded, but it was an excellent exercise in method writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Lydia,

    Since I found Two Drops of Ink, I have learned something with every post. Marilyn Davis was the one that lead me here and I follow her work. Then I found you and I am a devoted follower of your writing. Scott has attracted a team that provides positive information for writers at all levels. No wonder his site is rated so high within the literary world.

    With that said, I want to comment on your article. I am a novice at fictional writing and have so much to learn. So far, character development has been somewhat easy since my short stories and my book was based on me. You brought to light even if the main character is me, my reader may not know who I am. Often my story revels how the incident has affected the main character (me), consequently, the incident only intensifies if previously the reader knows the character more intimately. I think I get it.

    Thank you for the enlightenment and a great post. God Bless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chuck, thank you for the very kind and sincere compliments about our site and the staff. We work as hard as we can to make this blog diverse, interesting, thought-provoking, and informative. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we all do this as a labor of love. Kind regards, Scott

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