Over the course of writing seven novels on deadline, I’ve found that there are times I need to get closer to my characters, and there are times I need distance, at least temporarily. If you’re struggling with either of these issues, take these tips to heart:
More Intimacy: I need to get inside my character’s skin! If you’re feeling some distance between yourself and your novel, here is a simple way to write your way to more intimacy:
1) Pick one of your upcoming scenes, an interaction between your hero and at least one other character. Your hero is the viewpoint character, although she may or may or may not be driving this scene. Now close your eyes, take a minute or so to quiet yourself and relax. Now, slip inside her skin. Feel the sun on her face, the breeze lifting the hair at the nape of her neck, feel her chest rise and fall with each breath. I learned to expand the sensory range of my characters when I was writing about a painter struggling with questions of trying to get pregnant again (after three miscarriages), trying to adopt a baby, or finally giving up on the idea of raising a child and focusing instead on her paintings. Her marriage was suffering because her husband longed for at least one child. I’d tried to write the scene more than once but it felt flat. Then, by chance, I put myself inside her skin as she stood at her easel, her painting roughed in, her back to the door. Suddenly I heard the wind chimes and smelled the musky sunflowers past their prime and heard the softest shuffling; the hair on the back of (my neck) her neck stood up, and she could feel her husband’s presence as he watched her from the open doorway. The scene came into abrupt focus and took off. It’s a scene I still love.
More Distance: I’m feeling overwhelmed by my character, as if everything she experiences is happening to me! My character is starting to go crazy–what if I go crazy, too? Some writers are so empathic, and some stories elicit such deep emotions from their “tellers”, those writers need to create some distance between self and their character. Try these tips:
1) Write a letter to you, thanking yourself for sharing the depth of your experiences on the page. Note that you and your character share experiences but you are also very different: you are the author, she is the character. Make a list of ways you and she are very different. Cover physical, emotional, statistical, mental, and worldview differences (add quirks)–and keep going until you can see and feel a boundary separating you from each other. Know that you, as writer, have lived through experiences that allow you insight into your character. You’ve come out the other side of whatever she is going through. You are a survivor and you have incredible strength.
2) Even after acknowledging how much strength you have, you will still need to give yourself–and your character–rewards. a) You, author, need to rest between some of the hardest scenes you will write. Watch a favorite movie, go for a walk, eat some chocolate, take a nap. And then, when you write, choose a lighter scene in-between writing the more emotional scenes. b) Your character needs breaks, too. Does she like ice cream? Let her buy herself a triple decker cone and savor it. She might want to take a walk on the beach or catch the sunset or fly a kite. She might need to sleep, too. And it would make perfect sense if she needs to confide her fears and her joys in her best friend.