Monthly Archives: January 2014

Getting into Your Character’s Head

This post is for my writer friends. Does your writing ever feel distanced from your main character? Do your critique partners tell you they can’t empathize with him or her?

Good writing–writing that draws readers in and makes them feel as though they are living the scene themselves–requires getting into your character’s head.

So how do you do that?

Envision the scene from your character’s eyes. I’m a very visual person, so I visualize scenes as I write, sort of like watching them on an imaginary television screen in my head. And while I typically do this as though I’m watching from an “offscreen camera,” when my writing is feeling forced and distanced, it’s time to change perspectives and watch what’s going on directly from my character’s viewpoint.

Eliminate phrases that remove your reader from the scene. This includes phrases such as, “I saw,” or “I thought,” or “I wondered” (or, if you’re writing in the third person, “She saw,” etc.). Compare the following:

  • Jane boarded the bus. She noticed a young girl, about her daughter’s age, sitting in the back seat listening to her iPod. She wondered where her own daughter might be now.
  • Jane boarded the bus. A young girl, about her daughter’s age, sat in the back seat listening to her iPod. Where would her own daughter be now?

The story is being told in Jane’s point of view, so we don’t need to be told that she is noticing and wondering. We know that. The first version takes a step back from her, while the second puts us directly in her thoughts. We are right there, noticing and wondering along with her. Not to mention, the second version is tighter. Bonus!

Smell, taste, and feel the world. We hear it all the time as writers: Don’t forget to use all five senses. And it does make a difference. Your characters experience the world through more than just sight and sound, and even an occasional reference to one of the other three senses can bring a passage to life.

What writing tips do you have for getting into your characters’ heads?