Creating Characters: inkTips from Lauren Oliver
Posted by inkpopbecki on March 18, 2011
Bestselling author Lauren Oliver has moved from writing real fiction to dystopic fiction in the span of a few years, but what has always stayed consistent are her compelling characters. Want to hear more from Lauren? Join us for a live chat with Lauren Oliver in our inkpop Forum Events on March 20th at 2 p.m. EST.
People often ask me about how to create dimensional characters, and usually I respond that for every character, you should know his/her wants and needs, and how these differ. (A character might WANT to date the head cheerleader, for example; but he might NEED to feel accepted).
But a recent conversation with Gayle Foreman made me realize that understanding character is slightly more complicated than that, since it requires that you really understand PEOPLE. And with that in mind, I’ve assembled a little list of “method-writing” tips. Never heard of method-writing? Like method-acting, method-writing asks that you get inside the minds of your characters.
1. Be a spy. No need to bust out the all-black outfits and the infra-red night goggles. Just start listening and paying attention. Instead of zoning out on the bus and listening to music, listen to the conversations other people are having. Observe how people eat, chew, fix their hair, adjust their scarves.
2. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…or at least think about it. One of my favorite games to play is to pick a person radically different than myself–a middle aged business-y type man, for example–and ask myself, how did he get to be who he is? What was his family life like? What does he dream about? What does he eat for breakfast?
3. Take an acting class/try out for a play! This seems crazy, but so many writers I know are also actors and theater buffs. Nothing teaches you more about being someone else.
4. Play pretend. When you’re a kid, I bet you dressed up and imagined you were a princess…or a soldier…or an impoverished servant forced to do slave labor by your cruel parents (or maybe that was just me when my mom asked me to set the table…). And then I bet you stopped. But playing pretend is a wonderful way of understanding the interaction of story and character. So bust out that princess tiara and play castle!
5. Play 20 Questions. I go out a bunch in New York City, and I’m often amazed by how rarely people actually ask each other questions (and even when they do, they often don’t listen to the answers). Everyone has a story; ask about it! When you meet someone new, ask what kind of music he/she listens to, or what it was like to grow up in the suburbs/country/big city, or what that person fears the most. That’s the only way you’ll start being able to relate to people and characters who are different from you. Bonus: it will make you the most popular guest at any party. Seriously. Try it.