“So you think you know me? Can tell the world all of my deepest darkest secrets. With pen in hand, you pour every ounce of my existence onto a page lined in blue. But I have a secret you see. You DON’T know me. Until you walk a mile in my shoes, you have no idea who I am.”
Lavenia Stokes, Read ’em and Reap.
As writers, we learn about our characters as we weave together their tales. With each line on the page, a revelation is made. Truths and lies sit side by side shrouded in shadows until the coming of the light.
There is more to each character than what is poured out onto the page. There is more than one way to learn about who the character is at his or her core. What is it that they believe? What past transgressions keep them from moving forward? What challenge must they face to become the man or woman we portray in our stories?
Walk a mile in your character’s shoes. DO this literally. If your character is visually impaired, get with a friend and spend the day blindfolded. Try to live your life as they live. Does your character have a particular food allergy? Then spend some time shopping for groceries, meticulously reading labels and making selections that help to avoid that allergy.
Do some research on the necessary life changes your characters will need to make to deal with the adjustment period and then challenge yourself to make those changes. Keep track of what you experience when dealing with this new situation – sense of calm, frustrations, cravings. Was there something else that took the place of what you gave up? Did you start to use your hearing more when you could not see? Was there a substitute item with a different taste or texture that you’ve discovered you now enjoy?
We place our characters in some challenging positions. Step outside of your comfort zone and connect with your characters on their level. Relate to them in terms of day to day life. Do what it is that they would do (within the law of course). Get others involved in your experiment. Have them play the other side of the coin and observe how they react. Have them attempt to guide you when you cannot see or taste a new recipe without a particular item that for your characters could cause an allergic reaction.
At the end of your walk with your character, go back to your story and see if you have a new perspective on their experience. Is there something you have learned about your character you can now translate into the story?
We all have a story to tell and walking a mile in the shoes of your character can offer a level of authenticity based upon true experience instead of intellectual creation.