Channel Your Characters
by Franklin Kendrick (originally posted on ryanlanz.com)
There are a lot of books and articles that talk about the craft of writing good characters, their motivations, how to give them personalities, etc. So, what’s one more added to the list? Well, this is my personal approach to writing a scene by channeling my characters. Perhaps it will help you out if you’re in a jam.
I’ve been noticing that this process works for me more often than not, and I thought I’d write a little bit about the technique. A lot of tips that I come across discuss how characters will drive the plot, and I believe that’s true. What your character wants and needs, what road blocks thwart their progress, and how they overcome or don’t overcome the villains and antagonists are the main thrust of the story.
So, how do we make sure that our characters are expressing the feelings they need to make them seem alive? How do we come up with the words they need to say and make them sound believable? What pushes them to overcome these obstacles and believe in themselves and their abilities? These are all valid questions to ask as we embark on a 50,000-100,000+ journey with these people.
For me, I come from an acting background. I did theater all through high school and part of college, switching over to film partway through. Acting is all about characters and their motivations. What are they feeling that causes them to say this line? What are they experiencing internally that brings about this action? Why do they walk across the room when their lover says this to them? Everything is a cause and effect, and the actors on stage and in film internalize and rationalize these motivations and in turn use them to fuel their actions.
The same can be done by us as writers as we go through the process of writing our stories.
Take a character that you’re going to be featuring in a scene. This can be your protagonist, or it can be any other character who is integral to the scene. Try to find some music to listen to that fits the mood you want to portray. For me, I have a large collection of musical scores from various films I love. The most effective scenes I’ve written with music in mind are the “sad scenes” where characters are experiencing loss or sorrow at the turn of events. Pick out the music that will best lull you into a state of almost hypnotism. Clear your mind and begin to imagine that you are the character in question.
Soon you should be experiencing raw emotions. What goes through your head as you react to the circumstances of the scene? Are you shocked that someone you love is behaving in such an abnormal way? Are you angry about something? From these raw emotions should come lines of dialogue. In my own experience, these lines start out as simple phrases, typically something like, I trusted you and you did this. Follow these threads and see what monologues come from them. These will form the basis for your character’s dialogue in the scene.
From there, you will also get information about what the characters are physically doing. Are they gripping the edge of the table to keep themselves from trembling? Are they so overjoyed by a turn of events that they leap from their seat and hurry over to their group of companions? The possibilities are endless, and they all stem from an external cause of events and then an effective response from the characters.
Once you have experienced the scene through your character’s eyes and emotions, you will be better equipped to put that experience down on the page. I find this to bring a form of genuineness to my scenes, and the writing always flows easier when I practice this method of preparation. With enough practice, you can use this process as you write, allowing the emotion from the characters to get you from the beginning of a scene to the end.
Guest post contributed by Franklin Kendrick. Franklin is an author and artist who provides many samples of his work on his website. Check out his blog for more of his articles.