How do you get inside someone else’s head?
Seeing the world through the filter of someone else’s personality, history, and concerns is how you create a wide range of distinctive characters with depth and relationships that feel authentic and unpredictable. It’s how you immerse your readers into a different culture, whether it’s one from the past, the far future, or simply elsewhere on the globe. The chance to inhabit the lives of other people is why many readers read. To succeed as a writer, you need to do it very well.
But getting out of your own head and into someone else’s is a lot harder than you might think. Most people naturally assume that they’re looking at the world in the only reasonable way — they’re seeing the world as it is, not as it filters through their own personality and experiences. This is why most writers, even the best ones, tend to build their characters from themselves, or at least parts of themselves. Hence the old joke that MFA programs tend to produce first novels about MFA writers who are struggling with their first novels.
But if you want to create characters who are more independent of you, then you need to learn to see past your own filters – to get out of your own head. There are a couple of techniques that can help.
The first and most obvious is to talk to other people, preferably people who think very differently from you. I’ve found that Facebook is a good venue for this, more than Twitter – it’s just ridiculous to expect people to pack complex thoughts into 140 characters. So look online for people who disagree with you on important matters, whether it’s Evangelical Christians or atheists, Trump supporters or Bernie Bros.
Then genuinely talk to them. Don’t simply trade talking points and barbs. Don’t troll them, and stay away from people who troll you. You’re looking for people who honestly disagree with you and are willing to open up about it. If you’re like me, you’ll soon discover that the people who disagree with you aren’t necessarily ignorant, venal, or stupid. They simply have their own way of looking at the world, their own priorities. Even if you still think they’re mistaken – and they may be – you’ll understand where they’re coming from. [Read more…]