“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.’
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.