Recently a student asked for tips on really getting inside their character’s head.  Charts are good – one for strengths and one for weaknesses.  You might know how they look, move and speak, but not how they feel, not how they hide, not how they get inspired.  Know why they move with slouched shoulders, or why they speak in a monotone, or why they look as though they stepped out of a chariot.  Hook up with your character in the day when you’ve got a couple of hours to step into their world.  Go prepared.  Chesterton said, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”  Here’s an exercise to get to know your character better:  assume your character’s identity and talk to a friend as your character would.  You’ll discover more than what you thought you knew.

Some character building from The Drowning of Margaret Hannagh:

Robert was right.  I had too much wine, not enough control and too much of a good thing.  But it would get better, even though my heart folded into itself when I saw Robert die before my eyes.  Holding me tightly he floated me to shore in the thick-moving current, and as I reached to stroke his face, a massive beam crashed through the waves, sweeping him away.  Our fingertips had touched like a flash of lightening, then he was gone.

I’ve always managed to nurture the reverse side of a warm heart – my heart.  It was easy for me to put it all behind.  Even while he was drowning, I was erasing.  After I made it to shore, I asked around for a carriage and found a willing man.  I gave him my wedding ring to unload the corpse he was carrying and drive me to our estate on Grand Avenue.  It even surprised me how the sound and smell of the river, as we drove away, assured me of my future, despite what it had taken that day.

I had the laundry maid burn my clothes and bathe me, dress me, and put fresh flowers in my room.  I had our housekeeper bring every business and financial paper and ledger she could find that my husband had kept.  I told her to break into drawers if she had to.  I spent the rest of the day and night reading and studying our business. And surprisingly, I made vows:  never to get drunk again, never to love anyone else but Garth Hannagh, never to undermine my own power, and never to let anyone tell me I couldn’t run London Oil.  I slept well that night and every night after that, until several truths wouldn’t stay silenced.

They haven’t found Robert yet, and I’ve been waiting too long for Garth to come to me.

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