To create believable characters, novelists develop profiles. These descriptions of their characters—from birth conditions to major life event; weight, hair, and eye color; and character traits guide them as they write.
However, concrete details about the imaginary people who inhabit the pages of your manuscript don’t allow you to experience them. You can’t get up close and personal with your characters because you haven’t met, conversed, or developed a bond with of them.
“That’s impossible to do,” you might respond. “They are imaginary. My characters exist in my head, not in the ‘real’ world.”
You are right, but…
You can, in fact, get up close and personal with them.
Visualize Your Characters
By now you probably think I’m crazy. “Meet imaginary characters? Really?”
Here’s one way to do so: Visualize your peeps—the people in your novel.
When a runner wants to experience pushing past the halfway point in a race and crossing the finish line in first place, he imagines the scenario. He visualizes—and feels—the sweat running down his face, pain and heaviness in his legs, heaving and aching chest… and a burst of energy and change in focus that allows him to push through and complete the race successfully.
Why does the runner visualize rather than spend the time running? The mind can’t tell the difference between what is going on in the runner’s imaginary world—in his mind—and what is happening in the physical world. All his muscles fire just as if he were running. And his mind gets trained to help the body push through… rather than give up.
What’s this got to do with experiencing the characters you have developed for your novel? You can experience them in the same way—in your mind.
Bring your characters to life by visualizing them. Write your character profiles, and then imagine each character in action. How do they look and behave? What do they say or how do they talk?
You can even put yourself in your character’s shoes. Imagine you are the character. Visualize going through a day as if you were the character.
Each time you complete the visualization, write notes about what you noticed. This will help your develop the characters further.
Illustrate Your Characters
You also can experience your characters more closely if you create pictures of them. This time, I’m not talking about a mental picture. Use the profile you created to physically draw a picture of the character.
If you don’t possess artistic abilities, hire an artist on Fiverr.com or Upwork.com to do it for you. Give them the profile! Let them create an illustration. If it isn’t perfect the first time you receive their work, send the artist your revision suggestions. Work with the artist until you can see your character in the drawing.
If that doesn’t work for you, search magazines for a photo of someone who looks like your character. Or search the Internet for photos of actors and actresses who fit the bill. For example, before author Dianna Gabaldon’s Outlander series was aired on Starz, her fans chose the actors and actresses they thought should play the major roles. How? Based on their readings and mental pictures of the characters in of Gabaldon’s books.
Place the illustrations or photos of your characters on your desk so you can look at them as you write.
Have a Mental Meet and Greet
Let’s go one step further. Try a guided meditation that helps you get to know your characters.
That’s right… take a mental and visual journey to a place where you can meet the characters—or one character at a time—in your book.
Where does your protagonist hang out, for example? In your mind’s eye, imagine entering her office, home, bedroom, or even the scene of the crime. Or go running with him along the Hudson River, if that is his daily routine. Meet at the coffee shop where she writes each day—and buy her coffee, sit down at her table, and have a conversation.
Converse with your character in your mind. You can even tell your characters who you are and ask them what you should know about each one.
Touch them. Shake hands. Hug. Walk shoulder to shoulder. Sit side by side.
When you open your eyes, write down what you’ve learned. Use this information to revise or expand your characters’ profiles.
Now you’ve gotten up close and personal with the characters in your novel!