Walking in the Shoes of Your Character

When a writer brings his pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard), he’s essentially bringing imaginations to life. And if anything, life needs to be living, breathing, and when pierced, bleeding. It has to be so real, that you can reach out your fingers and actually touch something. Writers are magicians of the Literate Age, and like wise Magi of Old, we need to hone our skills!A story can have so many elements that makes a reader want to press on with the black squiggles on the pages – the plot, the setting, the twists and turns – but most importantly, there will always be a very tangible element that all readers will immediately identify with: the characters. Our characters are often the grander versions of ourselves; more bad-ass, more valiant, more stunning and striking and suave. Sometimes they are weak, or pitiable even, but they go through admirable transformations to become the heroes that we know we can become… just perhaps in different ways. They inspire us and show us a template, an archetype to follow, the path to walk that can bring us into higher places within our own lives. And that is why when it comes to fleshing out characters, we need to put in a little extra effort.

Put on the Shoes and Look at the Laces

Imagination has always been the oldest trick in the book. Put on the shoes of your character and imagine that you are him or her (or it!) for a day, if possible. Get a notebook with you, and jot down particular traits that you learn about your character. For instance, is she a morning person? And will she always love the mornings? Or perhaps he has always hate being with children, but a situation could change his opinion. Try to figure out where behaviour could be fluid, and where it has to be rigid. See how your character might change over time, or might stay resilient despite outside pressure. Figure out the little details that might help to etch out your character to life. It could be simple things such as how she ties her shoelaces in a certain knot, or how he likes his tea made. Don’t underestimate the details! They could help your readers to identify with your characters, because real life happens in the details.

Walking Old Shoes in Different Places

For some of us who could be stuck half-way with our character and are in desperate need for some sort of inspiration, we could take out the Character Shoes, slip them on, and go out for a walk. Anywhere will do, preferably a new place. Your Orc General could take a stroll in the park, your shy schoolgirl could hang out in a crowded mall, your cynical genius could visit a church. Bring your characters somewhere they probably wouldn’t go to in their world, and feel their reaction. Feel their thoughts dancing about in your own head, their voices of protest ring out every now and then, and their rejection, or surprisingly, acceptance of some elements that they (or you!) always thought they would hate. You will find that things your character are not will start to sharply define who they are. Just as in art, negative or empty spaces are important, and in character creation, non-traits are as important as traits.

Run with ’em!

Sometimes, you’ll never know how far your character will go until you push them. So put on those shoes and run with it! Conjure up some extreme scenarios and figure out how your character will react in that situation, the results may shock you. Perhaps, an extreme situation might be just the thing to unleash your character’s full potential, and that’s a good thing because you’ll have come up with some bonus material to put into your story. Just remember, shoes are for walking, and running, and leaping, and jumping. You don’t have to put your character out of his element to do it, but you can give him a difficult challenge that he’s possibly even destined to overcome. That will get him moving!

Finally, do treat all these exercises as they are – just exercises to get your inspiration juices flowing. Once the imagination machine is fully cranked and ready to go, your story will take itself in new directions. However, don’t feel obliged to throw in random details, or scenarios into your book just because. You might already want it to head in a particular direction, and these details are meant to spruce things up, not shake things around too much. In the end though, it is your call. So if you really want to, feel free to go wild with it!

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