Friday, March 20, 2009

Special Guest Margay Leah Justice

Getting Into Character

I have a confession to make. I hear voices in my head. Now, under normal circumstances, this confession would make one question their sanity and perhaps lead to years of intensive therapy. But I left out an important part of the confession: I am a writer. The voices I hear in my head are those of the characters that live there, in the land of my imagination, toying with my gray matter until I finally tease them out and onto the page. And there is the secret, at least for me, of characterization. I have to be able to hear the voices before I can get a fix on the characters.

As anyone who takes a pen to paper will tell you, characterization is an integral part of the story. You can have a mediocre plot, a tried and true plot, and yet still make it come alive with fascinating characters. Likewise, boring characters can sink a good plot. Just ask any reader what kept them enthralled in a book and more often than not they will give you a detailed description of…the characters. What do you remember most about Romeo and Juliet? The intricacies of the plot – or how passionate the lovers were for each other? What about the movie Titanic? What remains fixed in your mind, the fact that the ship sank after striking an iceberg or the ill-fated love affair between Jack and Rose?

Characters define a story; they are the backbone of the plot. Everything that happens within the story depends upon the type of characters that populate it. So the writer owes it to the reader to give him or her characters they will not forget. Characters that will live within them long after the last page is read and the book is closed. Characters that make them want to revisit that book again and again. How? For me, it is the simple matter of feeling that way about the characters myself. After all, if I can’t feel passionate about my characters, how can I expect my readers to? And so I listen to my characters.

For me, listening to the way they speak, the words they use, is an integral part of characterization. That is how I “get into” character. I playact in my mind. Visualize the character in a scene and play with her emotions. It helps to imagine a certain actress playing the character in a movie, to run the scene in my head like it’s a filmstrip. How does she sound? How does she stand? What does she look like when she’s angry? These are all key ingredients to characterization. You have to think of them as real people, full-bodied and well-developed. When you start wondering how your character would feel about a certain situation or how she would handle a certain crisis, then you have done your job. If you can write a line of dialogue and on a second pass realize that your character would never say that, or at least not in that way, then you’re totally in synch with your character and are one step closer to remaining true to them.

At this point, you might be thinking that’s all well and good, but how do you get so in tune with your characters? Another good tool that I use, in addition to the filmstripping, is the character interview. This is a fun and cool exercise for the writer because we never know just what our characters are going to say until we ask the questions. As evidenced in an interview of one of my characters – Dante, from Nora’s Soul – when he was interviewed by Pat Bertram http://patbertram.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/pat-bertram-introduces-dante-the-hero-of-noras-soul-written-by-margay-leah-justice/. Suffice it to say that Dante’s true nature leapt right off the page from the moment of his introduction – and he didn’t let up once. Not only did this make for an interesting interview, it made the character more memorable.

Why not try it for yourself? You just never know what you might learn when you open up your mind to the voices in your head.

Margay Leah Justice is the author of Nora’s Soul, published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. To learn more about the author, visit her website at http://margayleahjustice.com/. Nora’s Soul is currently available at Amazon.com.

35 comments:

Margay said...

I just wanted to thank the Pink Ladies (why does that name remind me of Grease? Hmmm....) for hosting me today. It is an honor.

Margay

Teresa Reasor said...

Margay:
Excellent blog and I'm proud to say that I too am in the sisterhood of hearing voices. Makes life more interesting doesn't it?
I too use a character interview to find out things about my characters. Helps you really get to know them up close and personal and helps you build a backstory for them before you every begin their journey.
My characters also tell me when they don't want to do something loud and clear or when I'm going down the wrong road with they're story line.
Thanks for posting with us today!!
I really enjoyed your blog.
Teresa Reasor

Margay said...

Thank you, Teresa! It's always nice to know that you're not the only one who hears your characters' voices in your head. I really enjoyed posting here today.
Margay

Morgan Mandel said...

My voice characters are always buzzing around my head along with my own voice telling me to let them out and get them into my manuscript.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

amydetrempe said...

Great article, Margay. Isn't it nice to be able to talk about the voices in your head to an audience who understands. I have a few in my head who are ready to emerge onto paper as soon as they are developed a bit further. I can't wait to see what they have planned.

Margay said...

As long as we don't confuse the voices - ours and theirs - we're all right. Thanks for stopping by, Morgan!

Margay

Julie Robinson said...

Nice interview, Margay and Pink Ladies. I've never tried the interview, but I've been reading more and more of them. I might have to see if that brings the din into focus.
julie

Storyheart said...

Great interview about a great book
Storyheart

Debra St. John said...

Those voices can be very helpul! I love it when an author can create characters that's so real, I want to meet them, hang out with them, see what they're up to.

Margay said...

Thank you, Julie. I think you'll find that interviewing can be fun. You never know what will come out in one!
Margay

Margay said...

Thank you, Storyheart, I don't know what to say. High praise indeed.
Margay

Margay said...

I totally agree, Debra. I think that is my main goal when I create my characters. I want readers to want to spend more time with the characters than I've given them in the book.
Margay

Mayra Calvani said...

Great post, Margay! I'll take a book with good characters and poor plot anytime!

Margay said...

Mayra, when I read a book, it is usually the characters I remember before the plot, so I agree. The story has to have great characters for me to remember it. Ultimately, it has a great plot and memorable characters, not just one or the other.
Margay

elaine cantrell said...

Does any author not hear voices? Thanks for a great post, Margay.

Margay said...

Elaine, at this point, I'd be suspicious if they didn't. Thanks for stopping by!
Margay

Dorothy Thompson said...

Great post, Margay!

Margay said...

Thank you, Dorothy!

Margay

Future Mrs. Ashley Rose said...

Thanks for visiting today!

Every night before bed my characters "tell" me more of their story. It's like they confide in me and want me to share their story with others. Good to know I'm not the only one that hears voices hehe!

Terry Odell said...

I actually do "job interviews" for my characters. I've got them on my website, under 'free reads' if anyone's interested.

After all, the characters (with only a few exceptions) are what make the book.

Sloan Seymour said...

Fantastic post! Thanks so much for being on our blog, Margay!!

Sloan

Margay said...

Future Mrs. Ashley Rose, that's how I discovered that Dante's story was only just beginning with Nora's Soul. Long after I "finished" writing it, he continued to visit me in my dreams and whisper tantalizing things in my ear until I realized I'd only just begun to tell his story. There is so much more to him than he originally presented, let me tell you.
Margay

Margay said...

Terry, that's a great idea! You can learn a lot about someone in a job interview.
Margay

Margay said...

Sloan, thank you so much. I'm really enjoying my time here today.
Margay

Mary Ricksen said...

Great blog Margay. They say as long as you don't answer the voices, your okay.
Seriously I wish they would talk to me. I might be easier.

Margay said...

Thank you, Mary. I'm happy you liked it.
Margay

Lisa Logan said...

Here here to voices! I actually got "voice stalked" at work by a vampire character who started whispering to me about why vampires like going to horror movies...and he wouldn't stop monologuing until I wrote his story! He was definitely a "character" before I ever took pen to paper. Thanks for putting the fine point on this topic.

--Lisa
http://authorlisalogan.blogspot.com

Margay said...

Lisa, that is awesome! Don't you just love it when characters drop a question in your ear, then tease you with little details until you write their stories? That's how Dante was for me and the big question was - "Do you really think my story is over?"

Margay

Margay said...

Lisa, I just checked out your site - very nice, btw - you are now in my overcrowded (that's the way I like it) Google reader.
Margay

April said...

What a great post, Margay! I really love hearing how authors write and how the character come to life - basically leaving the author as a tool to tell their story. Fantastic!

Margay said...

April, that's exactly what I felt like - just a tool! An instrument to bring the story to life. If my characters could type out their own stories from within my mind, well...they wouldn't need me anymore.
Margay

Sheila Deeth said...

Neat article. I enjoyed the book Margay. And it's nice to meet someone else who hears voices in her head.

Margay said...

Sheila, I'm just happy I'm not the only one! Thanks for stopping by.
Margay

Dellani Oakes said...

I agree completely, Margay. Bad characters, bad story. I have read some books where all the characters 'sound' alike. Their mannerims & speaking patterns aren't varied. That makes me crazy. I like snappy dialogue, teasing, interplay between my characters.

I loved Nora's Soul, by the way - and so did my husband! I was shocked he actually read a romance.

Margay said...

Dellani, I am honored that your husband read my book and that you both liked it.
Margay

 
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