As some of you know I am still recovering from the flu. Also, the holiday season gets more than a little insane so it is always a joy to run across fresh talent to share with all of you. The bad news is that Alex Limberg lives in Vienna so taking him as a hostage? Can you tweet #logisticalnightmare? Good news is, apparently Austrians work for compliments and candy cigarettes #littleknownfact.
So, with my Amazon Prime Account, I was able to secure SWEET blog content and all of us could avoid any sticky international incidents with the Austrians.
Which is best for all because, well who doesn’t dig their pastries?
This is another guest post by copywriter Alex Limberg. To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season until he makes his New Year’s resolution to kick his candy cigarette habit *rolls eyes*.
…and then we’ll just have to catch him when he relapses.
His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. Have you ever written a character you thought you couldn’t portray well because he was too different from you? In this post, Alex lays out three secrets on how to make a character like that come to life. Please give him a hand once again!
The situation feels so awkward for you: This guy, you just can’t understand what he is all about.
You have really given your best to make it work.
You wanted to discreetly overlook his annoying sense of entitlement (from his perspective, you won’t ever get anywhere, because you are way too modest).
You tried not to judge his ridiculous uptight correctness (he thinks you have no manners).
And you really made an effort to explain that you don’t enjoy small talk and you feel happiest when you are alone with a book (to him, you are too withdrawn; he seems to even get a kick out of chatting with the sales assistant).
But you absolutely don’t understand him. It’s just that the two of you are so different.
The worst part is, you have an important project together and you will have to work with him for months and see him almost on a daily basis.
You have no idea how you will be able to work with somebody like this. Seriously, this will be bad.
But there is also good news: The guy just exists in your head.
He is one of the main characters in your newest novel. If you want to make that novel work though, you better get to understand him on a level as intimate as your very best friend.
Here are three highly practical tips on how to connect with a character who is very different from you:
1. Find the Perfect Template Person in the Real World
You would never step on anybody’s toes, but in your novel you have to deal with a very bold character?
For sure you know somebody who doesn’t shy away from collecting ten free samples at once or “accidentally” taking the hotel towel with him when he checks out (my brother even tried to take the sheets with him once, true story). How would that real life person feel in your scene, how would she act, react and express herself?
Some writers have used their husbands, siblings or parents in a dozen different books, in a dozen different ways.
It’s a lot easier to imagine how a person you know very well would act. All the experiences you have had with that person will tell you. Your intuition will speak to you. Just transfer that gut feeling onto your character.
Most of your characters will not be exactly as their real life prototypes, because after all you are writing fiction and not a biography. Instead, your figures will rather be hybrids of people you know; for example, as brilliant as your sister and as restless as your best friend.
Take from everybody just what you need. The more life experience you have, the more characters you have met over the course of your life– great! Society around you is just a big, yummy, neverending buffet of character traits. Feel free to feast at your convenience.
2. Don’t Act, Be!
In some way, writing is like acting– the difference is that you have to be all of the characters at once. Being able to switch between so many different shoes from one moment to the next is a major point that distinguishes great writers from not-so-great ones. Fiction writing is a bit like puppet theater.
Have you ever heard of “method acting”?
In method acting, you don’t try to pretend you are a different character. Instead, you just ask yourself: “If I was that cheerful/vain/sneaky/dumb, how would I act?”
The moment you are answering that question, you are already in a different headspace. You are doing what the best actors in the world have a gift for: They don’t act, they are for a brief moment. They are just for an instant as the character does his thing, but they are with all of their being.
It’s a step in between pretending and naturally being.
“Method acting” is actually an excellent way of auto-suggestion. Imagine you had a hypnotist make you believe that you are your protagonist. And that you are the antagonist. Plus that other really cool main character. And his wife. And a couple of supporting characters… you would be in the lunatic asylum for schizophrenics in no time, but you would write excellent prose.
That “self-hypnosis” is basically what you are doing when you suggest to your subconscious you are that character.
Ask yourself: “How would I act, if…?”
3. Remember a Situation That Brought Out the Opposite in You
We all have multiple sides to our personalities. The sad ones are sometimes joyful, the mature ones can be childish, and yes, even the dumb ones are smart sometimes, because there are very different types of intelligence.
So that trait your character embodies but you think you don’t, is hidden somewhere deep inside of you.
Here is how to bring it out: Think back to a situation in which you really, really felt that way. Maybe you usually don’t feel so confident, but that one time after you got your promotion or passed that exam in university, you felt on fire and were just invincible for the next couple of days.
Close your eyes, go back to that situation: What did the scenery feel like? What did you see, hear, smell? And how did you feel?
Try to tap into the feeling you had back then with your entire body. Yes, this might sound overly esoteric, but give it a try and see if it helps you. Breathe confidence when your character is very confident on paper– and take it from your emotional memory!
Adorn Yourself with the Most Beautiful Borrowed Plumes
So there you have basic advice on how to be somebody else. Don’t become schizophrenic, but keep on practicing your talent for wearing unfamiliar skin.
If you do this well, you have taken a huge step towards becoming a great writer. People love stories because they are fascinated by their characters. And if you can create intriguing characters, you readers will desperately have to know what happens to them next and will devour your stories.
Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.
Now it’s your turn: How do you handle a character whose nature seems very alien to yours? Did you ever run out of patience with one of your figures? Are all your characters like you and you can hardly distinguish them, so there is never any trouble? Do you sometimes have long discussions with yourself in front of the bathroom mirror? Who wins?
Roses are red, violets are blue. I’m schizophrenic and so am I….and THAT NEVER GETS OLD!
Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.