For me, one in particular stands out. Analysing people. I love delving into the why’s and wherefore’s. Who are they? Where have they come from? Why do they do what they do? All in the name of research, of course. Legitimate people watching.
There are even times I turn that analysis onto myself.
Let’s take a look. I’m an introvert. Shy, insecure. Never quite sure what to say when I meet someone for the first time. I’m that person at a party who clings to the shadows, or people I know, fumbling over conversation because whatever I say just sounds plain dumb. Of course, I always think of those witty, intelligent comments after the party’s over. Too late then.
Well, I’m a writer. I don’t have to be witty on demand.
When my characters speak, it may seem as if they have all the answers, but I’ve had time to agonise over the words. Time to work out what they should or shouldn’t say, how they should act and react, what fits well within their nature.
You may ask, why is she telling me this?
There is a reason, method behind what must seem to be my March Hare madness.
As writers, it’s easy to write characters we relate to. Characters we understand, those gems whose minds and motivations we see inside. Characters like ourselves. But what if we write characters who aren’t like us? What then?
Speak to ten different romance writers about their characters and you'll probably get ten different techniques for getting inside their head.
There are so many ways for us to find out more about the leading men and women in our stories, And, just as important, give our readers insight into their varied characters. Today, I’m going to talk about just one of the techniques I use. One that can be a lot of fun, depending on how far you want to run with it.
Let’s take the example of your heroine.
If you emptied the contents of her pockets or handbag, what would you find? What goodies would she carry that give insight into who she is?
I’ll go further and give you an example. Jayda Thomasz is the heroine of my current work in progress, Lethal in Love.
She’s a homicide detective, so more often than not, she doesn’t carry a handbag.
Let’s empty her pockets and see what we can discover.
Of course, there’s the obvious – a .40 calibre Smith and Wesson M&P semi-automatic, a set of handcuffs and her detective’s badge. On top of that, she always carries tweezers, gloves and a couple of evidence bags. She is, after all, a workaholic. Just because she’s off the clock, doesn’t mean she’s done for the day.
Let’s list the rest.
- Mobile phone – with a home screen picture of her family taken the day she graduated from the police academy. What importance does this place on her family? On her career?
- Gum – for those long nights working when she forgets to eat.
- $5 – never know when you’ll need a coffee, which is pretty much anytime :)
- Choc covered coffee beans – a caffeine alternative if she can’t get the real thing.
- Notebook and pen – she loves lists. Every decision requires a list of pros and cons before she has a hope of making up her mind.
- Lip balm and mirror – she may not be a girly girl, but she’s still a woman.
- Garter belt – still in her pocket after a short stint undercover at a swinger’s party.
- Binoculars, torch, army knife and paperclips – she was a girl scout, and she’s a stickler for their motto – ‘be prepared’.
- Scrunchie – Jayda has shortish hair, so she has no need for this. Yet, she always has one in her pocket. Why? Because her sister consistently forgets to bring one to their weekly interval training workout.
Let’s take a moment to look at what she doesn’t carry in her pockets.
For instance, no condom. Jayda doesn’t sleep around. And even more, she's a virgin.
Remember, it’s not always about what’s there. Sometimes what’s missing gives us just as much insight into our character.
If you found this fun, why not take the exercise one step further?
Dress up as your character, in her taste of clothes (op shops are a great resource for this). Fill your pockets or handbag as only she would, and really slip into her skin to feel, think and act as only she would. Walk in your character’s shoes, so to speak, and then write them. You might be pleasantly surprised how much easier it is to slip inside their head, now you’ve seen inside their pockets!
There are so many other ways of delving into our characters, and this is but one of them.
What do you do to get into your characters? How do you get inside their minds and create realistic and 3-dimensional people for us to either love or hate?
Photo: Melbourne Romance Writers Guild get into character at the 2013 Retreat.