Last week in a sort of “side note” to my notes, I mentioned this:
It doesn’t work, by the way. Yelling at my characters, I mean. Some authors appear to have “fourth wall” privileges wherein they can converse with their characters – I don’t. The minute I start trying to do that, having to listen to them (ie, write them) in the first person, I cease hearing *their* personality, and my own starts to creep in. I need distance in order to keep myself separate from them, to keep my head out of theirs.
Davin suggested I expand on this a bit…so thanks for this week’s topic, Davin.
Most people know I prefer not to read first person (though when done well, I can tolerate it, or even enjoy it, depending). But all over the ‘net I see authors doing interviews with their characters, guest posting as characters…and I have to be honest – I can’t do that. I can’t write my characters in first person, and still maintain the separation I need in order to write their personality completely separate from my own. My brain just doesn’t work that way.
I’m slowly figuring this out, but I have a theory that when I’m writing, and when I talk about “getting into my character’s head”, it’s more from the point of view of a psychologist or sociologist (neither of which I actually am). I study them, their mannerisms, how they react to different situations, their speech patterns, their expressions, how they dress, everything. I learn who they are as a person through all of this, and often find myself feeling what they feel as I watch them move through scenes.
There are two things I simply cannot do though. I can’t put words in their mouths – I have to let them speak naturally and automatically. And I can’t actually “become” them – I can’t let go of my own sense of “self” enough to actually pretend to be in their heads, thinking their thoughts, and speaking for them (see last sentence).
I am very self-aware, as most people with my personality type (INTJ) are. My characters tend to be very different from me, embracing ideas and philosophies I don’t necessarily embrace personally, using language and speech patterns I’d never use, and making decisions I’d never make. I am not them, and therefore cannot “pretend” to be them with any degree of accuracy.
Now you’re scratching your head, thinking, “But you actually are your characters – they’re coming out of your mind!” (or “you’re going out of your mind…” which may well be true). And you’re right, of course, but when I create a character, I create a blank and then sit back and let my subconscious drive. That’s where all the important stuff comes from, and it plays automatically like a movie in my head. Once the characters start “acting”, I have no real control over them, as strange as that sounds. My subconscious does all the work, and if I try to interfere, it just shuts down, simple as that.
That’s what being “blocked” means for me – normally, it’s because I’m not comfortable with where the characters are headed for whatever reason, and I’m fighting it, wanting them to do something else. It’s very, very rare that I win that battle, though we sometimes can strike a compromise. I’ve set stories aside that pushed my boundaries too much, because I wasn’t willing to follow the character where they needed to go. More often than not, I have to resolve myself to the fact that my subconscious is a much better writer than my conscious mind, and just let it do what it wants.
Do I sound fragmented? I am, I guess…but in a very conscious manner, if that makes any sense. I often wonder though, how other writers can write in first person. How they can let go of “self” long enough to become someone completely different…or if that’s even possible, in the long term. Personally, I can’t remove my own filters long enough to keep a first person account true to the nature of that particular character – I have to stand back, and observe/record as an outsider in order to capture a more objective picture of my characters.
I realize we can’t ever be completely objective…and my characters do end up with some of my filters, even from a distance. But it would be far, far worse if I were actually in the driver’s seat – been there, tried that.
So tell me, those of you who write in first person – how do you do it? How do you stifle your sense of “self” long enough to actually “become” your character?
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