|Sometimes my characters need to take a good |
long look at themselves.
Photo by Jurii, from Wikimedia
There are, I’m told, two types of writers. There are those who see the action they describe from outside, as if it were a film. And there are those who see it from the inside, who live they characters’ lives with them.
I’m sure there are technical terms for these approaches though I don’t know what they are. But I do know that I’m the second sort. When I have an idea I move, for a short period at least, into a peculiar half-world from which my family are excluded (one day I must sit down with them and see if they’ve noticed). As I begin to get to know my characters I begin to think like them.
When I stop and think about it, I’m not actually sure that this instinctive approach is the best one for me. The main drawback is that I’m so busy living in the heads of my main characters that I don’t really have a lot of time to look at them from the outside. As a result I find that my minor characters are generally better described in physical terms, even if they aren’t always as fully-fleshed as they could be from an emotional point of view.
To combat this I have to be quite firm with myself. At the end of my first draft I have to take my main characters and look at them from outside. Having them look in a mirror is no use because they see what they want to see, not what’s there. (Like the rest of us.) And a suggestion from my friend and fellow blogger Jenny that I should write a description of them from their point of view, while it may suit some, didn’t work for me.
Jenny, I did try. At one level I was both surprised and disappointed that I couldn’t manage to benefit from this when it works so well for others but when I tried to work out why I realised it’s linked to this in-head approach. Though I write from the character’s viewpoint I also need to look at them dispassionately, see them as someone who is emotionally engaged with them, positively or negatively, will see them — not as they see themselves.
I know that one of the key weaknesses of my writing is the external viewpoint. That’s something that comes from what i think of as the film-maker’s viewpoint.
How do you approach your characters? In head or out? Can you combine the two? And please please please…give me some tips!