Saturday Writing Tip: Use Yourself as Inspiration for Characters

Spain_reflection_mirror_51847_lI know, duh.

Don't all writers use themselves as inspiration? (Some, such as memoir writers, obviously more than others.)

What I'm talking about today is using your own thoughts, reactions, and feelings as a springboard to create characters.

Here's how you do it:

1.  Write a journal entry as yourself

2.  Now write that same journal entry as someone else–a character you have in mind already, or someone you create off the top of your head.  Soon you'll find yourself veering from your usual voice to something completely new. 

A variation on this theme is to write (or imagine) how your character might react to a situation you find yourself in.  You're going to see a movie.  Now imagine your character going to see a movie.  Which one does she choose?  How does she get there–car, bus, bike? What is she thinking as she travels to the theater, and is the theater a funky, old one that sells pizza and wine or a huge suburban multiplex?  Is she looking forward to the movie or going because someone else is dragging her along?

These kinds of questions about your character's ordinary activities can give you a huge window of insight into her life.  Play with making this a daily practice.  Stopped at a red light, ponder what your character might be pondering.  Going grocery shopping?  Think about how your character does the same chore.

A bonus to this activity is that it is way better than worrying. When your brain turns to obsessing about your finances, or your teenage son, or your lack of a love life, stop that unfruitful line of thought and think about your character instead.  What is he worrying about? 

How do you learn more about your character's lives, inner and outer?  I'd love to hear.

By the way, I've quietly posted the info and registration details for my Get Your Novel Written Now class, which you can see here.  We'll be discussing all the things you need to have in place to write your novel, with tips, tricks and exercises such as this one.

Photo by Robin Taylor.


8 Responses to Saturday Writing Tip: Use Yourself as Inspiration for Characters

  1. Patty/Why Not Start Now? 06/09/2012 at 10:36 #

    This is so cool, Charlotte. I can see this being a great activity whether or not you’re a writer. I mean, we all have an entire cast of characters within us, and I love the idea of shifting our worries to them when the worry tape starts playing.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 06/09/2012 at 10:59 #

    Oooh, I love that idea Patty–sounds like that might work well for our mental health!

  3. Heather Jenkins 06/10/2012 at 12:57 #

    Awesome idea. One thing I like to do is decorate a cheap notebook in the style of a character and then journal as that character, include pictures of things they enjoy, and even doodle. I also conduct a mock interview, asking questions from “favorite soda” to “what’s the worst thing you’ve done”. This helps me get underneath the idea of the character and meet them in the heart and mind.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 06/10/2012 at 14:11 #

    I LOVE this idea.  I'm such a whore for notebook and journals anyway, to have one all gussied up the way my character would and then devote it to her–too cool.  Thanks!

  5. Sarah Allen 06/11/2012 at 09:01 #

    Ooh, I like that journal idea! I’ll have to try that sometime.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  6. Debbie Maxwell Allen 06/11/2012 at 10:10 #

    I do this a lot. It’s like “take our daughters to work day”, except I bring my character along!


  7. Charlotte Dixon 06/11/2012 at 10:23 #

    Do try it and let us know how it works out for you!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 06/11/2012 at 10:24 #

    Love that analogy!  It's "take your character to work day!"

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