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It's All in the Mind

The writer Anais Nin once said that we see the world not as it is, but as we are. This profound idea offers insight to us as authors. And I'm using the word 'insight' deliberately, for we need to look in to find out. The whole art of visualisation means looking in to our own minds as we represent the world of the story in the imagination. Similarly, in creating convincing characters we must – as far as we can – step into their shoes and see the world from their perspective. We might all look at a chair and agree that it is a chair, but perhaps it reminds me of the chair that was the favourite of my bullying great uncle whose blustering voice and intimidations terrified me. Maybe you have fond memories of a similar chair and regard it with nostalgic fondness. We may all look upon the same object, but each of us will see it differently.

Characters grow as we use them in our stories, but before we ever sit down to begin chapter one, page one we can – and should – gather up some insights as to how the world looks from their perspective.

  • Decide on a character's star sign and write her horoscope.
  • Imagine in detail what her kitchen would look like.
  • Create a character envelope. Put inside the envelope ten items associated with the person you have in mind. (This, by the way, makes for an interesting writers' group activity. Each member of the group creates a character envelope; then exchange envelopes and write a description of the person the items suggest.)
  • Be your character for a day. Social convention might influence how far you can go with this! – But at least endeavour to see the world from her point of view. What opinions does she hold about the things you encounter? What does she think of your friends? What does she think of you?
  • All in the mind

    Click for larger image.

    Take a look at accompanying image. I call this activity 'The World Inside'. Imagine that these are the thoughts going on inside the mind of a twelve-year-old boy…

    • Why is he thinking of these things? And why is he thinking of them in this way? This game encourages active 'mind reading' as you interpret what's on the character's mind.
    • A variation of the game is to select one item from the circle and to describe how different characters in your story would see it (if you have artistic abilities you can draw the different interpretations). So if we choose, for example, the image of the child at the computer. The little boy represents it this way, perhaps, because 'computers make him feel small'. Another character might see the computer screen as a doorway opening on to a wonderful landscape.
    • Based on what the little boy is thinking, write a description of him. Or, more adventurously, fill in a character pyramid.
    • If you really want to get into this character, imagine you are the small boy and invite your friends to ask you/him some questions. Notice how the answers often pop easily into mind.

— Steve Bowkett

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Posted by: Kevin Machin Date: January 17, 2018 5:55 pm
Categories: Resources Tags: exercises
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