Characters – Part 1: Getting In Their Heads

This past weekend I went to my work Christmas Party, where we all took part in a Murder Mystery Dinner which was beyond fun. Here’s my name tag from the evening:

IMG_1258I’ve only been at my work place three months, so only the kitchen staff really knows me. I have the feeling now that I’m never going to be called ‘Will’ again there, though. All the middle-aged women LOVE to call me Fabio and Pool Boy. Great.

Anyways, as I was trying to get in character for this murder mystery dinner, it really made me think of writing.I found myself doing the same things I do when I’m thinking about a character for a story.

First things first I read the character description of Fabio and tried to formulate ideas of how he would talk, look and act. Now, this is similar to characters I’ve created. The major difference is that I write the character profile of my characters, but all the steps to understanding everything about them seemed to be the same steps I was taking to get inside the head of Fabio Fabulous the Pool Boy.

It went something like this:

1) First I had to imagine what this character is going to wear. Dress can say a lot about a character, and is often an easy place to start if you’re still getting to know them. I always think how I want others to see my character, and then what kind of clothes can help accentuate that view.

2) The face of a character is essential to the identity of said character. Not just the physical features, but the expressions they use. Many times when I’m imagining up a character, I start thinking about how they will respond to certain things and what sorts of looks they will give. It’s always good to start with how others will see your characters because, in a sense, you’re still getting to know them as well. Many times, when a character comes to my, they are already fully formed and I have to delve into their mind to learn more about them. A lot of this stuff seems to already be present, I just haven’t figured it out yet.

3) Your character’s voice is also important to understanding how their brain works. How will they talk? Usually, I try to make it a representation of how I’d assume they talk based on their features. Often times, though, when I imagine them saying something I hear a voice that is just right for my character. I’m not sure if others do this, but I will often try to imitate this voice I hear, using my own. Often when I am writing a novel, I find myself speaking aloud the dialogue, trying to say it exactly as my character would. This is a bit strange, I know, but it really helps me.

4) Once you’ve sort of seen how others will perceive your character and you’ve gotten to know their physical characters, it’s important to get into their minds. By this time, in my mind anyway, the characters are, themselves, their own identity. I think of them like I think of real people and it’s like I’m having ‘real’ memories. Once I get the physicality of the character down, the creative input on my part is over. I don’t imagine what goes on inside each character’s head, I have to discover it for myself. This is the stage where you try to enter your characters’ mind. You really have to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they would react to different circumstances. It can really get as complicated as pretending you are someone else and trying to figure out the workings of that person’s head.

5) Sometimes, though, your characters can take on lives of their own and it’s up to you to try and reign them in. I no longer have to try and think up how they will respond to certain things, I just think of a situation and in my mind my character’s reactions unfold with little work on my part. I guess this is the greatest part about having an imagination. The last little thing that I do to try to understand my characters is trying to make sure they all have their own, unique voice. I think if you don’t get into the mindset of each character, they will all start to sound the same. Sometimes, for me, the best way to do this is to really think about each character on their own. I’ll go for several days imagining how my character would react to situations in my own life, before switching to a new character. I like to think of this as mental Halloween stretched over many days.

These are just very simplified steps I take in trying to get inside the heads of my characters. I’m not sure if it will even make sense to anyone else, but it makes a lot of sense to me. That’s why I do it, obviously. If you can relate, please comment. If you really don’t have a clue what I’m talking about because you think I’m slightly crazy I really don’t expect you to comment.

For all the writers out there, I have a question for you. Is there any particular way you try and understand your characters? Maybe the process is different for every character? Do you even think about them, or do they write themselves?

Basically, I’m trying to ask what sorts of quirks do you do when imagining, thinking about, creating and writing characters?

Thanks for reading!

Till Next,


Categories: Life, Writing, Writing Devices | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Characters – Part 1: Getting In Their Heads

  1. Will, this is a great addition to character development. When I begin to think about a character, giving him quirks to make him different and likable or unlikable is a great springboard for me. Thank you for re-posting my post. I hope you find it helpful as I found your post and the others you mentioned here. I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Well thank you for your kind words! They really mean a lot! Characters can be very difficult to create, and it’s always interesting to hear how other authors go about doing it. It’s also nice to hear from other authors because while I do have a lot of experience writing, I feel quite young still and it’s good to get advice and inspiration from other writers! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. My characters seem to write themselves. I don’t give them much thought, but I see them in my head like a movie. Then my dilemma is wondering how much information about them do I give to the reader. I hate works that are too detailed. It gets tedious to me to read, so I tend to just sketch my characters and let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Though, I’ve been known to be wrong. I wrote a housekeeper, who in my head was skinny and frail, but my husband said he was picturing Aunt Jemima. Oops.

    • I always picture a movie in my head too. It really helps…and makes me feel like I’m writing something worth paying attention to! As for the detail, I agree. I like to give brief descriptions, like a few sentences, about their physical characteristics when they are first introduced. Basically, what you would observe physically about someone the first time you see them. I don’t say anything more right then, but as the story progresses I might drop a line or two about the character. I try to make it so that the reader is discovering more and more about the character as the story progresses! Once I start writing the actual story I, too, don’t give the characters much thought. I try to develop them beforehand so I can write without interruption from trying to figure out who my characters are. Thank you for the comment and for stopping by. It is much appreciated. 🙂

  3. Orla-Jo Duill

    I think about what they believe and how they react under stress. Image a bus crashed through the window of a cafe all your characters were in. You need to know how all of them would react.

    • That’s a very unique way of looking at it. I would imagine that to be very effective, though! Thanks for sharing.

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