One Method That Isn’t For Me

May 9, 2010 at 8:57 am (Character, fantasy, Setting) (, , , , , , , , )

I recently considered the plight of some of my characters and the fact that I put them through so many things I’ve never experienced. This is a small dilemma because I am often left wondering whether the character is actually responding realistically to the situation. I am not the character and I am not going through what they are. All I can do is imagine if I was that person, how would I feel.

That, and read other accounts of similar experiences and research how people have responded to certain events and read psychological discussions etc, etc. Does that enable me to actually understand how my character will feel? Maybe, maybe not. I hope it does enough that I don’t horribly offend any one with a lack of sensitivity.

Considering this, I momentarily wondered if maybe I should actually try to experience some of what my characters go through. Obviously I wouldn’t want to experience most of what I put them through (I would hate to be one of my characters in most of their situations) but it wouldn’t hurt to move a bit closer to understanding them.

The example is one I was playing around with earlier today.

I have a character who is hiding in a tree over night and is trying to sleep. Sleeping in a tree doesn’t strike me as being a fantastically comfortable experience and to be perfectly honest I’m not certain you could brace yourself appropriately and actually sleep.

I started looking at various trees and considering the possibilities.

Finally, I found a fantastic tree that had nice wide, reasonably flat branches, close together and with enough cross branches that you could conceivably brace yourself in the midst of them all and not plummet to your death.

I looked up at them. I wondered what it would feel like to be up there.

Then common sense kicked in.

I am not about to scale a really smooth trunk of a tree to reach branches that may or may not be sturdy enough to support my weight and then attempt to fully relax and hope that somehow I don’t fall sideways and crash to the ground, almost certainly breaking bones. How do you explain that to the ambulance attendant? By the way, I was just checking if a fictional character could sleep in a tree?

I think I’ll just imagine what it would be like and continue to try to put myself in the place of the character and hope I don’t go too far beyond the realm of possibility. Though given it is a made up tree in the story, I think I’ll go out of my way to design it so that it seems slightly more plausible that she didn’t roll out in the middle of the night and crash to her death.

How about you? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be your character?


  1. Cassandra Jade said,

    Then of course I’ve spent the day trying to figure out how to make a rope out of a bed sheet and how much weight it would take to make said rope fall apart. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be worth it to experiment with my own sheets so if anyone has ever had the pleasure of climbing out a bedroom window, please enlighten me.

  2. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Oh, I never write what I know. 🙂 Thank goodness! My books have too many scary situations. I just rely on my imagination for it all. And different people have different reactions to the same events, so…whatever you come up with works for that character!

  3. AlexJ said,

    Sure I do! I’ll never pilot a plane, let alone my character’s spacecraft. But then, my characters act in ways I would never act, too.
    Glad you didn’t test your sleeping in the tree theory.

  4. Helen Ginger said,

    I do in that I often dream my characters. Other than that I do what research I can. Very interesting post.


  5. Cassandra Jade said,

    I’m glad I didn’t test the sleeping in the tree theory either. I’m pretty sure I know how that story ends. That said, my character did manage the night in her tree but she didn’t get a lot of sleep. At least that’s the story I’m sticking to in this draft.

  6. satsumaart said,

    I wonder this all the time! I think it’s part of the fun of writing, though, to try to imagine (whether we try it out or not) what different experiences are like. 🙂

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      True. That’s why I loved writing as a kid. You could just experience everything – even if only for a little while.

  7. lunaleo said,

    I’ve wondered about this, too–sometimes I feel like a total fraud having my character go through things I have no experience with, but then I also agree with Satsumaart–part of the fun is just trying to imagine what I would do, if I were my character and stuck in some crazy situation. I think ultimately, if you listen to your intuition and just go with it, you’ll usually come up with a pretty realistic reaction, even if it’s something completely outside your realm of experience. And I think it’s awesome that you were seriously considering sleeping in a tree. Now that’s what I call dedication to your art! ; )

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I don’t think the serious part of my brain kicked in at all, except when I walked away from the idea. I think you’re right about the intuition to an extent but at the same time, you have to wonder sometimes.

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