April 9, 2012

Writing Other People's People: Written by David

This is a problem that I just encountered in writing my Jovial Brittanians project, and one which any writer who decides to take on a famous character or person may face in their own writing. How do you write a pre-established character who isn't your creation?

Unfortunately this week's problem doesn't have a clear cut solution. And I'll warn you, it's definitely going to feel a little weird.

If you haven't tried writing a character who you didn't make up, take the opportunity to try it no, because it's an experience every writer should try at least once. If you can do it well, then your own characters may just gain a little something as well.

All right, so how do we step into someone else's skin?

The best way to write someone who is not your own creation is to become familiar with them. Take them out to a private engagement if possible. Don't interview them, so much as study them.

All right, so that's all fine and dandy if the character is your best friend, but how is that going to help you write Tom Cruise? Or Mork the Orc?

If you can't familiarize yourself with the person personally, then your next step is to study them as much as possible. Deconstruct them. Use that skill we call literary analysis and analyze your way to an understanding of a character.

And then the hard part. Start writing them.

I warned you it would feel weird, kind of like the feeling of slipping into another persons skin. It's supposed to feel weird, because ideally the character is not going to behave in a way that you feel is natural. That's a good thing, if they behaved how you wanted them to behave it would mean you're putting too much of you or your other characters into them.

Step away from the comfort zone.

To really try your patience try throwing the character into situations you normally wouldn't find them. Let Washington wind up on a space station. Put a military captain into the middle of a tea party. Put your characters into uncomfortable situations and you'll work out the uncomfortable nature of a character who doesn't behave how they're supposed to.

And then you can put them into the situation you've devised for them, and feel a little better about how they're acting.

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