Jan 22

Characterization: Walking a Mile in Difficult Shoes

IMG_1604[1]One of the most important traits a writer can have is the ability to assume the identity of their characters.  Characterization can quite literally make or break a story.  A truly great movie will have great characterization from both the actor and the writers.  No matter how great a performance an actor gives, a poorly written characterization will sink them.  If the writer’s characterization is poor, nothing can save the story.  So how do we as writers ensure that we make our characters believable and connectable?

The answer is that we need to learn how to walk a mile in our characters shoes.  To really understand a character, we need to become them or at least get as close as we can.  The further the character is away from you, the more work you will need to do to achieve this.  So just how do you become someone else?  It is not easy but in this modern age of social media it is easier than it used to be.  It begins with research and a few really good places to begin are:

  • YouTube: This is an incredibly useful tool for researching a character.  You can search for people just like the character you are trying to connect with.  Watching their blogs which will give you an insight into their character.  It will also show you things like how they talk, dress, and often glimpses into how they think.  A lot of times these people on YouTube are open to questions. Leave them a comment to ask if they mind if you pick their brain.
  • Real People: A lot of times there are real life versions of your characters out there in your neighborhood.  Some caution should be taken if your character is a dangerous person.  A drug dealer, for example may not be receptive to you approaching them.  However, a former dealer may be more than happy to talk your ears off.  Keep in mind that your safety is more important than your story.
  • Books: Reading makes you a better writer and seeing how the greats handle your character may very well help you get a grasp on how you should characterize them. Always remember, you don’t want to closely copy what others are doing as you really need to make the character your own.

Once you have done the research you are ready to write, right?  No, not quite yet.  You may know about your character from the research, but you still need to wear them for a bit.  Remember the whole walking a mile in their shoes bit.  You need to slip into the character and walk around until the shoes are no longer difficult; you want them to fit.  So just how do you do this?  I have a few tips that might just help:

  • Day dreaming: Let your imagination run wild.  Take on the role in your mind and live their life until it becomes easy to become them.  Imagination is also really safe for exploring dangerous situations your character may be involved in.
  • Perception:  One exercise that can be very good is to explore how the character perceives the world.  For a blind character, you could spend a few hours blindfolded so you could just listen to the sounds you would have missed, or you practice getting around.  For that example, have someone with you as you don’t want to injure yourself in the process.
  • Acting:  Put the role on and act it out for friends or better yet, people who don’t know you.  People who don’t know you very well will tend not to spare your feelings if you get it completely wrong.  Just make sure that who you act it out for will be honest with their opinions on what they believed and what parts you need to work on.

Once you are comfortable with the character your writing will be that much better as your character comes to life in your words.  In many cases you may have to do this for multiple characters and you will reach a point where it is effortless to slip one off and put the other on.  The dialog between these characters will be awesomely believable and you journey towards being great at what you do is one step closer.


-Candace Mountain

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  1. Moises Lopez

    Very interesting article. It is very insightful and well written. Thanks for sharing.

    1. camountain

      I am glad you liked it.

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