Getting Into Character

When writing, it’s hard to get out of our own mind and into our characters’. I suppose it’s the same for actors. However, as writers, we have to play the part of several characters. In order to do that we have to research and have an understanding of several characters.

Granted, I don’t have to be inside all of my characters’ heads, meaning the novel may not be told from all of their POVs, but I do need to know what makes them tick and I need to know how they say the things that they say. I need to know how to make each of their voices come alive and be distinct (consistently) for my readers.  (Consistency is the tricky part, IMO.)

Here are some ways I prepare myself to write for my characters.

• I think about the predominant emotion they evoke in me. For example, my MC’s love interest (who actually does get a small portion of the novel told from his POV) makes me feel bitter. He feels like life kicked his hopes out from under him and he’s struggling to get back to his feet and make due with what he’s been given. And he’s got a whole lot of bitterness in his way, making it all the more difficult to accept his fate.

• So I think about events/people in my life who’ve made me feel that way.

• While running, I listen to songs that evoke those same feelings. At the same time I plot out his scenes and what he will say in them. And I think about how I want the reader to feel while reading those pages.

• I look through books I’ve read that made me feel bitter/hopeless/lost/hurt and find out what the author did to make the emotions jump from the pages to my heart.

• I pick a few key phrases/words that character likes to say and use them throughout the novel. (What does your character mumble/blurt/yell when ticked off, disappointed, shocked?) (What does your character tell themself over and over to get through the mess he or she’s in?)

• Think about the character’s personality. A peppy character might speak in short phrases or incomplete sentences. A pensive, well-read character might speak slowly and use a larger vocabulary. A boy-crazy character might not be interested in your mcs issues and continually cut him/her off to comment on a hot passerby.

Besides thinking about what the characters WILL SAY. Don't forget to pay attention (while you're writing) to what they WON'T SAY.  Yes, my friends, I'm talking about OVERWRITING and taking yourself (and your reader) right out of character.

From the moment I met Erica and she read my first piece of writing, VOICE was the number one thing I’ve needed to focus on. There have been MANY other things I’ve struggled with and improved on, but VOICE was the main theme of her suggestions for me. She can take one of my character’s sentences (one of my overwritten, filled-with-author-voice sentences), and make it into a clean, simple sentence that a teen spoke. She literally oozes teen voice. She has a magic wand for these things. And after her waving it at me severalteen times, I started to get it.

Confessional:  Hi, my name is Christy. I’m an Overwriter. I’ve been writing without writing flowery phrases for about 6 weeks now. When I feel the need to overwrite I think, “What would I say if I were talking to my friend? How would I tell them the same thing? What would I notice if I were my MC and in the same setting? Would I think about the color of each and every leaf on the overhanging branches? Or would I just sprint through the trees praying the blue psycho woman trying to kill me wouldn’t catch me?”

And I would read this link. GO HERE. (kidlit.com) Perfect for recovering Overwriters like me.

I mentioned that Erica read through my manuscript. A couple of my characters’ voices are inconsistent in a few places. That’s okay. I have work to do. The BEST part about hearing “oops, one character sounds too much like another one” is…that means they really DO have their own VOICES and Erica picked up on that enough that she thought they were mixed up. Even if it was inconsistent it was there. I made my characters have voice. It’s a start. I’ll take it!!!!!

There are tons of blog posts on creating distinct voices out there. Erica sent me an amazing link on one today. HERE IT IS.  (developing voices by janice hardy)

Your turn.  YOU know what to do.  Leave a message about how you make your characters' voices distinct and how you do it.


  1. This is a brilliant post. Love your suggestions. :D

  2. I do the same thing when it comes to overwriting and character appropriate voice. I have an ensemble cast, and the novel is told from the MC's first person POV, but the voice still has to change subtly when other characters are speaking or acting.

    I've gotten a lot better at it, but it always helps to have second (and third, and fourth) opinions.

  3. Pay attention to what the characters WON'T say--I love that tip! :)

  4. Great post, Christy! Thanks for the ideas for how to get into my characters' heads. That is something I struggle with.

  5. What an excellent post! I love how you tap into your character's primary emotion and find ways to inspire it. I'm taking notes here! I like to get to know them before I start writing them by filling out a personal questionaire about everything from their hobbies to their family.

  6. Wow, Christy, excellent post. As a Recovering Overwriter myself, I relate, but don't beat yourself up! There are gems of voice in the overwriting, I'm willing to bet. I've heard editors say it's better to have too much, and have to distill it, than to not have enough. I think the more you write, the easier it gets to limit the flowery phrases you refer to, too. And of course it's great to have a crit partner you trust who can help! Key for everyone.

    Your suggestions are terrific, thanks.

  7. Very cool points. And I didn't know there was an Overwriters Anonymous chapter in Wisconsin!

  8. Su- I think I just started it. Member of 1! Anyone can join! :0)

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I'm thrilled it was a helpful post. I love that I've finally been writing long enough that I've come up with some routines and methods that work for me and can share. Now I can add my own personal advice along with links from the "experts"! (once in a while anyway!) :0)


  9. Hi, Christy,

    Ah, the infamous voice we all hear about. Like you I had tons of head hopping in my first novel. Trying to think like an eleven-year-old girl wasn't the easiest for me to pin down. I hope after a year and a half of editing I might have found their voices.

    My second novel was a cinch. I was a seventeen-year-old kid once, so capturing my mc's voice was much easier. Acting out all his frustrations came easy to me.

    I think as writer's we NEED to immerse ourselves into a character's head. Once you do that, the rest falls into place.

    Have a great weekend....

  10. Ugh voice. It's one of the harder things for me to do. (Description is the 1st.) I do a lot of 1st person POV so it's a challenge to make sure that each narrative doesn't sound the same.

  11. Great tips Christy! When I create my character sketches, I try to think of every detail about each of them. Their quirks, what they say, what they wouldn't say, how they dress, how they look, etc. I have to keep consistent with how they react to certain situations. I think I'm really big on nonverbal communication (my crit partners would say I do it too much- my characters look at each other too much ;p)

  12. Hi there, i love the tip what the character won't say!

    sorry i missed adding you in the crusader challenge earlier on.

    i'll do it now.

    I also have a Followers competition over at my blog
    Just need to sign up using the form. easy.

    GREAT post. I am trying to improve the voice in my novel at the moment. hard job.


  13. Great post! I'm going to save this one, as I'm starting a new book with new characters and am still discovering who they are. Thanks for the tips! :)


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