Nailing It

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I wore a little glitter for the holidays.

I’ve been polishing my nails lately.

My protagonist in the manuscript I’m just about ready to send to my agent is into manicures. The rest of the women in her family are great beauties and she believes she’s plain. The one feature she takes pride in is her hands. Like her, I get complimented on my hands, but I don’t share the same feelings about my looks and my hands (just for the record).

When was younger (junior high into my twenties) I kept my nails long and polished. But somewhere along the way I got bored with the upkeep, and over the years I grew to hate long nails. Every now and then, like before a book signing or a vacation, I’d polish my fingernails or get a manicure (always in a white or pale pink French-type look).  

But since Rae is into painting her nails, I’ve been painting my nails. I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of having little pops of color at the end of my fingertips. Right now they are a shimmering fuchsia. Up next is a Michelle Obama-inspired blue-gray called “Chic.” And I am totally going to do a keyboard manicure one day.

I wish I could call it method writing, but it’s not that intentional. I didn’t paint my nails to get a more accurate sense of how to describe it in my book (though that definitely happened). Just somehow along the way I’ve started to exhibit this aspect of her character. I did this with characters in my other novels too (especially becoming more of a gardener as I wrote about gardening).

I know I’m creating these characters and I know they are coming from parts of me that already exist, but it also feels like I get influenced by them and learn from them. Not only do my characters evolve as I write them, but I do as well. I’ve heard lots of stories of actors getting caught up in their roles. It seems writers can too. Thank goodness I don’t write about serial killer or vampires!

What about you? Do you ever find yourself acting like your characters?

 

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About Carleen Brice

Carleen Brice writes nonfiction and fiction. Her most recent books are the novels Orange Mint and Honey, which was made into a Lifetime television movie called “Sins of the Mother,” and Children of the Waters. She’s currently at work on a novel called Every Good Wish.

Comments

  1. says

    Carleen,

    I find that my characters give me encouragement/excuses to try new things. Learning Latin is chief among them (I’m not that far along with it yet, however)… especially when getting inside the head of a medieval scholar who would know Latin – it was both necessary homework and a fun experiment. These days I am thinking seriously of launching into yoga because another character practices it. Scary at first, my characters give a dose of courage to try what I’ve always wanted to try and just see what happens. Life and fiction bleed into one another in more ways than we realize, I think. Thanks for such a fun post!

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    • says

      I think you’re on to something. Our characters open us to new things and I love the idea of THEM giving US courage to try something we’ve been interested in!

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  2. says

    It’s not quite as bad as serial killers, but I have found myself swinging a sword, trying to accurately ‘choreograph’ a historical battle scene. Haven’t broken any nails–or lamps–yet, but please don’t tell my wife. I’ve found myself wishing I lived closer to my brother, so I could go out riding more often, as well. It’s hard to picture yourself doing something while mounted if you haven’t ridden in a long while.

    I agree with Jillian, fun post, Carleen!

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  3. says

    Ooh. Manicure. Something I used to get every week in corporate America (chore), and now get around the holidays if I am lucky (treat). Funny how perspective changes on even the little things.

    I can’t say I’ve made myself look or act like any characters, but my WIP has three major characters. One is a lot like many women I know, the others are totally different. I find myself people watching people who I think might be similar to the other main characters: noting their mannerisms, opinions, etc. Jeez. Now that I see that written, I hope it doesn’t sound stalkerish.

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  4. says

    My nails have never grown for me, They are so brittle and just brake. I like to keep them short with a little color on them. I think your next color sounds really pretty.

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  5. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    I was reading your post gleefully yelling yes! and yes! inside my head. I am so glad you wrote about character persona. There is method acting and I know there is method writing. When I find myself taking on some little quirk that belongs to one of my characters I get excited, because it means I am starting to see things from their perspective, and things will come onto the page that are a part of them. There is an art to this that I believe requires a great mental, physical and spiritual balance. And it shows in the writing.

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  6. says

    I absolutely find myself doing this, even to the point of trying to figure out how to throw a knife. It’s incredibly difficult to get that sharp object to hit its target just right, by the way=) Maybe this comes from us living in our written worlds as well as the reality around us. Who knows? It’s fun and we never stop learning.

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  7. Jo Anne Burgh says

    Does wishing you were more like your character count?

    Several years ago, I was writing about a lawyer who was passionate about the law, including the role of the lawyer in obtaining justice for the downtrodden and enabling people to resolve disputes without resorting to gunfights on dusty streets. In twenty years of practicing law, I’ve never been able to muster up nearly that much passion for the practice. The irony is that friends who read the story assumed that the character was autobiographical, and I had to admit that if I were half the lawyer she was, I probably wouldn’t be spending my time writing stories. (On the other hand, I was happy to disavow some of her other characteristics, so I suppose it was a wash.)

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  8. says

    One of my characters owned a Les Paul guitar. Eventually I was inspired to pick up my own guitar after fifteen years. (Not a vintage Les Paul.) Sadly, I still don’t play that well.

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  9. says

    I love writing psychological suspense novels. I live with my characters and feel that I know them well. Not that we’re friends exactly, if you know what I mean. Some are killers and some are just strange individuals.
    Hmmm…….you really got me thinking….. I’m definitely not a violent person.
    At once point, however, I did fear that my computer would be tagged for some of the sites I visit. Making poison for instance and seeing how long it takes for a body to decompose in a shallow grave….
    You’ll vouch for me, won’t you?

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    • says

      I too have done searches for things that I hope I never have to explain to law enforcement or Homeland Security! Hopefully, they can tell the difference between writerly interest and sociopathic interest!

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  10. says

    My characters have aged as I have. Instead of me acting like them as I create them, they seem to be in practice mode for what I can see coming down the pike for me. In one novel, a group of sixty-five-year old women discover they can still make decisions to change the paths they are traveling. In another, a seventish, cranky old woman meets up with a serial killer and finds out she not only brave but can be friends with a street kid who wears Goth clothes. My last, unfinished, novel centers on Ellie who wakes up one Christmas mornng to find her husband dead on the pillow beside her. I haven’t told my own spouse about this one yet and I haven’t quite decided how it’s going to end. Ellie will find a way–and so will I one day.

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    • says

      I can definitely relate. Getting older helped me write the mother in my first novel–early drafts were all about the daughter because her life was more of what I knew. I couldn’t empathize with the older character until I had been knocked around by life some more.

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  11. says

    Love this post. I’m glad I’m not the only one out there that can let their character’s likes mix in with their own. I never cared for the color purple until I wrote about a character that loved the color and then I decided, well, you know what? I actually really like purple. I never cared for gold jewelry, and then I wrote about a character that was really stuck on her looks and had a special love for gold — then I realized I liked it, too. I don’t know why this is, maybe in writing and explaining why the character likes these things so much I convince myself that there’s a reason?

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    • says

      I am a pretty suggestible person so maybe that’s all it is, but I can definitely see myself changing my opinions about things once I empathize enough with the character to write her or him. Glad to know I’m not the only one!

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  12. says

    I love this post! I’ve gone shopping as characters at times, and not really realized that I would not actually wear a shirtwaist dress in tiny calico print…like, ever….until many weeks later. I’ve cooked foods I hated, bought shoes that didn’t work, shopped for hair doodads that I’d never wear.

    It does keep life interesting!

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  13. Hilary says

    This is all very interesting, particularly the variety of things that people “catch” from their characters.

    I once wrote a character who had a liking for whisky – I mean, the proper sort, single malt scotch. I never used to touch the stuff. Now I like it too.

    I wonder – is there some self-help advice here – if there’s something you’d like to do (a course, a hobby, a job … etc) but you’re holding back from it, write a character who does it, and you will be inspired… ?

    Mind you, it doesn’t always work – I also once wrote a character who was a farm-hand and good with cows – and I’m still scared of them, wouldn’t go near one, never mind milk one by hand.

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    • says

      I wonder that too Hilary. Like could I write a character who wasn’t afraid of heights and cure my fears about that? Though not even ready to write about a character who digs spiders. *shivers*

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    • says

      That’s so funny! This thread is making me think we’re missing out on a golden opportunity to blame our mistakes on our characters–“sorry honey that wasn’t me who snapped at you, it was my character.” Nah, dang it, he’d see through that right away.

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  14. says

    Yes, I find the mood and mannerisms of certain characters linger after I’ve finished writing their scenes. I’ll confess another quirk: in a very “meta” process, when I’ve had a difficult task to do, I purposefully inhabited one MC’s brain. She had the ladyballs for the job and I couldn’t locate mine at the time, so why not? ;-)

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  15. Patricia Grayson says

    I ask myself, What would Alan or Brian do? The wise father, the helpful friend…and I DO find myself acting out things my characters would do. I thought it was crazy at first, now I don’t think so.

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