Get into Your Character’s head and Stay There!Getting into a character’s head is a lot like labor. Pushing and groaning and deep breathing until I successfully transport myself into a character’s mind that doesn’t really exist, then make them do things and say things that not just anyone would say and do.
Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of. I have been writing for more than ten years. I try to forget how long because I’ll get depressed if I dwell on the amount of time I have spent writing without selling. I know, I know. It’s not supposed to be about the publishing contract at the end of the tunnel…but for me, that’s what motivates me to keep going. More than anything, I want to see my books on the shelves at Borders. That vision gets me to my computer every day. I won’t quit until it happens. And what does my goal of being published have to do with getting into your character’s head?
When I give my heroine (and/or hero) a goal, I make it something she wants SO badly, she’ll do ANYTHING to make it happen. She wears those same blinders they put on horses to keep them focused, because for the next three hundred pages I want my character focused on her goals. That’s how I get into her head. I make sure that whatever it is she wants, she wants it so badly she’s blind to all obstacles. She isn’t going to listen to the naysayer’s or the people at the bank telling her she can’t afford that ranch house. And if someone tells her the only way to get what she wants is to marry the ogre next door…then that’s what she’ll do.
Know your character’s goal so well that it feels like it’s your own. Give her the motivation to do WHATEVER it takes to see it through to the end. In my opinion, it should FEEL like life or death--even though it’s not. Maybe her father died trying to buy that ranch and she promised him on his death bed that she’d get it for him. If it’s a family of her own she wants, because she grew up in foster homes and never had a family to call her own, then readers will understand her marrying the ogre next door. She wants a family, darn it, and the ogre isn’t half bad when he smiles every once in a while. So what if he has a limp in his gait and an empty, hollow look to his eyes. He’ll do just fine.
I promised myself a long time ago I was never going to give up…I was going to see my books published even if it meant giving up television, being sleep deprived, and missing out on family functions. My deep motivation to sell began with my dad talking about my sisters being the “successful” ones, and a few friends telling me I would never publish because not too many people do. But motivations change over time. Hopefully, along the way, your characters will make new friends on their journey to their goals and discover things about themselves they never knew before. By the time that goal is in their grasp, they’ll realize it wasn’t about the goal in the first place. It was the journey, NOT the destination.
And, hopefully, by the end of the journey, the ogre has learned a few things, too...like you never know when your neighbor is going to walk through your front door and propose and offer you the world, and then show you day after day that she’s never leaving you no matter what the other neighbors say behind your back. The ogre learns that love really does exist and that it can come from the strangest places and when you least expect it.
And that’s how I get inside my characters’ heads: Goal and Motivation.
Make it big, make it meaningful, make it your character’s everything…their life’s purpose, their driving force. Their reason for living is that goal…until the end of the book when they hold it, feel it, own it, and discover it wasn’t about the goal at all--not really--because of all they have learned and discovered about themselves by the end, they have changed. They aren’t who they started out as on page one.
My own journey has taught me that success isn’t about having a book on the shelves at Borders, but in having made new friends along the way while raising decent children and having a loving husband. Success is having finished seven novels, living a balanced life, and being grateful for what I have. Success is learning how to forgive misguided parents and even friends who forgot how to dream big.
There it is. Get into your characters’ heads by giving them goals and motivation that matter. Keep them focused on their goals, and then make them sweat, make them shiver, make them discover what’s really important.
So let’s talk about the goals and motivations of the characters in YOUR stories. What do they want more than anything? How badly do they want it, and what are they willing to do to reach those goal(s)?