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Getting into the Mind of a Character
By Rebecca A. Corio
What is method writing? The answer may depend on who you ask. For some it is a specific discipline in an author’s approach or mechanics of their writing. For myself, the definition is more that of embodying my character by creating similar situations or environments which then allow me to learn more about the people I am writing about. If my character stays up all night and sleeps during the day, I will spend several weeks doing that to better understand the thoughts and feelings that come as a result. If I have someone who walks on a treadmill for anger management, I will torture myself (true story) for countless miles on that adult hamster wheel and let my thoughts explore everything about what is going through my mind in the process. I take note of every feeling, inside and out, like I am a scientist conducting an experiment. I diligently attempt to catalog how my brain reacts, the things I think and in what order. All of this to better understand what drives a fictional person, in a fictional town. All this to explore who they are.
Writers were crazy before they ever put pen to paper. This just gives us license for it.
I admit with a slight blush, to having done this even before I knew what it was called. I had been writing for almost ten years before a conversation took an unexpected turn and someone said, “Oh, like method acting. Cool.” This wasn’t a term I had ever heard or thought about. I went and looked up method acting. My friend was right, as usual I might add. What I do is like that.
Not everyone is a method writer. Which makes the question, why, does it work for me? I believe there is a piece of myself in every character I have ever written. Even in the men. For that singular characteristic that I identify with, there is no explanation needed about why they feel the way they do, why the character chooses to act a certain way or why they choose to speak a specific line. But people, even fictional ones, are multi-faceted. I may identify with that one part, but it is only one. The rest of who my character is, I must figure out as I go. Why don’t I simply make everything up? I am. But even what I make up needs to be relatable. If I am to pen a successful story, the characters need to be believable.
We actually do this unconsciously every day. For example, you are standing in the coffee shop waiting for your order when you hear the person in line ordering. “I’ll have a Grande Americano with a splash of heavy cream, five pumps of sugar free vanilla syrup and two pumps of toffee.” Your jaw drops in awe that someone just ordered the exact same thing you ordered. The barista calls out your order and two hands reach for it, yours and your coffee doppelganger. The two of you laugh at the coincidence and the next thing you know you are sitting at a high-top talking about how perfect your order is. The conversation progresses to plants and pets before one or both of you decide it is time to go. Two days later you find yourself walking out of the grocery store with your first ever plant…because you want to know what this person you had even that one little thing in common with, you are curious what makes them like plants and decide to see for yourself. Maybe we all method live, without even realizing it.
Another example would be starting a new job. You are assigned someone to show you the ropes, where the breakroom is, what the best vending machines are, what software system you will be using. I mean you applied for the job so you must have even a basic knowledge of the job itself. But until you start that first day and begin immersing yourself in all the details of the people, the location, the technology of what you will be doing, there is that blank space waiting to be written. That learned information is what makes you a rockstar at your job. And so, those intimate details you learn as you embody your characters, are what make them reach out and wrap their hands around the hearts of readers, pulling them in close with familiarity.
At least, that is how it works for me. I love getting to know my characters, learning about them. It doesn’t matter where the starting point is or what the link is. I can go forwards in their life, or backwards, or both in learning who they are. I happily wear their clothes, drink their Scotch, practice their sleep schedule, allowing myself to become the fictional character for a time.
I’m a writer, I make stuff up. By climbing into the skin of my characters, hopefully the people and scenarios I fabricate make the reader feel like if they met the character they are reading about at the coffee shop, they would suggest lunch and maybe even become friends.
Rebecca A. Corio
A former farm girl from the Midwest, Rebecca now runs a family restaurant in Hawaii and serves as founder/president of the Bryan Fujikawa Foundation, a non-profit that works with other community organizations to provide meals to underserved families in the community. She hosts a biweekly reader discussion and author chat called Wino Writer Wednesday on Instagram Live. A believer in “love at first sight” and “happily ever after,” Rebecca shares laughter, tears, and passion with readers through the stories she creates. She loves being the sunshine and light for those around her, and the advice she gives most often: When the Universe stops to sprinkle its pixie dust upon you, make sure your arms are open to receive it.
In her debut romance Storm of Passion (TouchPoint Press 11/23/21), Corio devises for readers a tempestuous story of island love and learning to trust in the middle of a storm. Heavily influenced by a connection with nature and drawing from her experience working in security, she creates a setting worthy of an escape, as well as realistic characters and relationship dynamics that everyone will love.