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Identifying with characters

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Helen_Davis

Identifying with characters

Post by Helen_Davis » Sun January 20th, 2013, 2:06 pm

When I write I really like to get into my characters' heads and imagine how they would think and feel. Has anyone else experienced this?

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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Wed January 23rd, 2013, 12:45 am

You can't write a good character without consideration of their emotions and motivations, of course. BUT, for me, that is an entirely different thing than actually identifying with them, which I would hate to to frankly. A lot of writers get their own emotions so invested in their characters that the characters end up being nothing but wish fulfillment for their author, and for most readers it's a deadly bore. It also destroys an author's objectivity, which ruins a character by investing the whole work with that individual bias, and eliminates their flaws and failures. When an author is too invested, their characters become avatars for themselves, their ideas, their fantasies - and while that can be energizing in the moment of creation, it destroys both the writer's and the work's objectivity and perspective.

I write precisely because of the need to get out of my head, out of my world, and have a bone-deep urge to explore stories well outside my own experience. This is the central reason I write histfic; because most of history is so far from my own experience. To write about my own feelings through a character would be fatal for me, as it would bore me to death and leave a story completely asea. While my life is fascinating stuff worthy of exploration, to do so by writing about (in fiction) is impossible, because I'd be the worst narrator of my own experience, and there'd be no perspective worth sharing.

The MC for my first novel was an ancient Frankish king who went into battle and forged a nation. Nothing in my personal experience can really inform a character like this, and it would have been presumptuous of me to apply myself to him in the work. My next novel concerns the matrilineal line of his sister, married off to Theodoric the Goth, her daughter, who was quit the splashy Ostrogothic number, and probably her daughter as well. Though these are women, their lives are so beyond my own that I don't presume to bring much to the table with them, either.

I think caring about your creation imbues it with vitality and presence. But falling in love with - or thinking we *are* - our characters can be a trip down a rabbit hole. It's like the actors who go into character 24/7 during a production. All very well to have an authentic Hamlet or Hannibal Lecter, for the show - but who wants the Dane moping around, or the sociopath coming home to go to bed with at night?
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

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Helen_Davis

Post by Helen_Davis » Wed January 23rd, 2013, 6:27 pm

Thanks. I have fantasy writing that I do as therapy and just for fun and then I have the stuff I wish to publish professionally. I do think that the professional writing I am able to seperate myself while still caring for the characters and wanting to produce a professional piece of work but the stuff I do for fun is for projection and working things out. Am I making sense? Maybe I used the wrong word instead of identify-- maybe I should have said something like trying to understand my character's motives and their time period? I know there's a word for that but I can't remember it right now.
Last edited by Helen_Davis on Wed January 23rd, 2013, 6:47 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Tue January 29th, 2013, 12:53 am

I think there's a need for all of us to write for self-indulgence sometimes - I just don't do that for public consumption! :) But you're definitely right, it's necessary to put yourself in a character's shoes for them to be authentic. For me, that's not a very emotional process, and I know *too* many authors for whom it's "falling in love" (a phrase I've literally seen - falling in love with my characters). I may be a bit hard-nosed by comparison, but especially for "The Ax and the Vase" it was certainly appropriate to the MC. That kind of discipline informed the character, and probably does most of my creations - to the point that when someone becomes emotional themselves about my stories, it almost takes me aback. It can be bewildering to affect others so strongly!

That said, when I wrote the death scene, I did choke up. Reading out loud is part of my process, and the first time I read that one it got to me; still does, a little bit!
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

***

http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/
I'm a Twit: @DianeLMajor

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue January 29th, 2013, 1:27 am

I can't say that I identify with my characters personally, although I know them very well. Mostly it's because my characters are all a composite of real people--one of the advantages of living over five decades is that you have a lot of possibilities to draw from.

And that is one of the things that makes me REALLY glad I'm writing stories set 500 years in the past--if people whose traits and personal responses I have 'borrowed' recognize themselves, they can't sue me!

It makes writing so much easier when all your people come ready-made. One friend gave me a T-shirt that said "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel!" :D

But of course, you can't really just take people from the industrialized world and transport them to the 16th century and get any kind of accuracy. I lean very heavily on my friends and acquaintances from the undeveloped world, where death is common and security is always a very dicey proposition. Also where social strata are much more pronounced.

My Pakistani friend was explaining one of the differences being the the U.S. over her country: "Here, you can't tell who is rich and who is poor by looking. In Peshawar, the poor dress like they are poor, and they can't read. And they know that they are on the bottom, and they better not upset anybody higher than they are."

All the little details I get from re-enactment. But it's the attitude you have to study the poorer, scarier places in the world to 'get'. Once you spend some mental time there, you can never look at somebody 'homeless' in the developed world without thinking "They are in the top 10 percentile of wealth, health care, educational opportunity and personal choice, and they can eat better out of any dumpster than 30% of the global population."

It does make you rather unsympathetic.

Helen_Davis

Post by Helen_Davis » Thu January 31st, 2013, 12:22 am

[quote=""DianeL""]I think there's a need for all of us to write for self-indulgence sometimes - I just don't do that for public consumption! :) But you're definitely right, it's necessary to put yourself in a character's shoes for them to be authentic. For me, that's not a very emotional process, and I know *too* many authors for whom it's "falling in love" (a phrase I've literally seen - falling in love with my characters). I may be a bit hard-nosed by comparison, but especially for "The Ax and the Vase" it was certainly appropriate to the MC. That kind of discipline informed the character, and probably does most of my creations - to the point that when someone becomes emotional themselves about my stories, it almost takes me aback. It can be bewildering to affect others so strongly!

That said, when I wrote the death scene, I did choke up. Reading out loud is part of my process, and the first time I read that one it got to me; still does, a little bit![/quote]

Thanks! Glad to know I'm not alone! For me it's an emotional process. Yeah I don't do the self indulgence for public consumption either! :D And I get what you mean MLE, that's why my novels are in an ancient world that went a little differently!

On another note, I hope to publish my alternate history. Would that be HF or sci/fi fantasy? Just curious!

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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Fri February 1st, 2013, 11:29 pm

I may not be the best to answer that question, but I will respond with my limited knowledge in this area. I think there is a genre called speculative history - which avoids both SF and fantasy, and allows an author to write an alternate history without populating it with dragons or spaceships.

(In no way, of course, does this reductive answer reflect a lack of respect for science fiction nor fantasy, both genres I deeply love; the dragon/spaceship reference is meant to be a bit of a wink not a full depiction of my expectations.)

I'm fortunate to have a pretty clear genre, so will move aside for others to speak to this question. It is worth noting, of course - *you* have to know your genre, or it'll be hard to "find the right place on the bookshelf" for your work and market it properly.
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

***

http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/
I'm a Twit: @DianeLMajor

Helen_Davis

Post by Helen_Davis » Sat February 2nd, 2013, 3:07 am

[quote=""DianeL""]I may not be the best to answer that question, but I will respond with my limited knowledge in this area. I think there is a genre called speculative history - which avoids both SF and fantasy, and allows an author to write an alternate history without populating it with dragons or spaceships.

(In no way, of course, does this reductive answer reflect a lack of respect for science fiction nor fantasy, both genres I deeply love; the dragon/spaceship reference is meant to be a bit of a wink not a full depiction of my expectations.)

I'm fortunate to have a pretty clear genre, so will move aside for others to speak to this question. It is worth noting, of course - *you* have to know your genre, or it'll be hard to "find the right place on the bookshelf" for your work and market it properly.[/quote]
Thank you. My self pubbed novel on Evita is doing pretty well but for this series I plan to exhaust the agent route before I try self pubbing. But you never know with the whole world in flux now and the publishing industry being no exception to that.

I live next to a locally owned bookstore. I am good friends with the owner and she is willing to sell both the English and Spanish copies of my self pubbed books. I've also gotten very good feedback from writing conferences. An agent almost accepted me and said she would have if her house represented that type of work and encouraged me to keep trying to find representation! :D So I think it's a good sign that my first rejection was so positive! Not that I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm just hopeful for the future of both my writing career and my life in general. And being hopeful is much better than being in despair.

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