Spend a Day with your MC

One of my favorite writing exercises for developing a multi-layered character is essentially method acting for writers.

Spend the day as your MC. Ask yourself, “What’s my rationale for this behavior? Given my own headcanon for this character, how will I respond crossing this busy, wet city street? What will I order for lunch? Why? What do I see right now that might trigger a memory or pain in me?”

My current MC’s name is Holby. So I spent a lot of time with her. I chat out loud with her when I’m alone in the car. We have a little in common, and we’re also a lot different. Seeing things through the lens of Holby’s experiences (and temporarily adopting her passions, prejudices, fears, euphorias, and preferences) can sometimes fill in the blanks of my WIP plot when I’m stuck. I identify the ways she might annoy me personally, and also what makes those traits redeemable. Gradually, she has her own voice, and she’s willing to tell me more about why she is the way she is.

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A few things that help me personally:

  • Submerging myself in the time period/culture/skills that are similar to my character and her/his world. Pinterest boards, Polyvore layouts for character clothing, microhistory books, documentaries, and quick road trips to museums can all spark all sorts of character quirk fodder.
  • Making a soundtrack based on your current WIP. These could be your character’s favorite songs, music from their culture, or soundtracks from movies that get you in the right sort of headspace to channel your protagonist.
  • Find people you have relationships with who share similarities with your protag. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should base all your characters on your friends or family. But the people around us can give us valuable insight into areas we’re kind of doofuses in. For example, my pair-bond is much, much more knowledgeable about baking than I am. So I outsource.
  • Do new things your protagonist would like, but you’re scared to try. Change your car oil by yourself. Look for crayfish in a stream. Feed a giant spider. Visit a haunted house {{shudder}}!  Little sensory details that add dimension and believability can give the reader empathy for a character, but they can also create shared “experiences” between writer and protagonist. Wear your MC’s skin for a day, and share their sensory experiences.

With a little luck and a lot of coaxing, that little trickster that’s been haunting your daydreams and plot holes will come out to play, revealing their magical complexity. And, obviously, charm the ever-loving socks off whoever meets them. ^.^

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