Putting Yourself into Your Character’s Shoes

by | 16 March 2018 | Writing | 18 comments

Inventing new characters is a favourite pastime of mine. A young emperor’s son, a wise war general, a runaway, a secret agent. There’s just something incredible about crafting these brand new humans and giving them a story and a home and a voice.

But then I sit down to write their story and I suddenly realise—how on earth am I going to write a battle-scarred war general realistically?

Who am I kidding? I’m a teenage girl living in the 21st century, not a grown man from the 1300s.

I’m sure I’m not the only one (anyone out there who’s been to a war in the 1300s?) and if Iย am,ย I’d like a loan of that time machine, thanks. ๐Ÿ˜›

 

We could just forge ahead and try our best, but it’ll end with flat characters and stilted dialogue and action. But since no one is forthcoming with that TARDIS, what elseย can we do?

 

First off, we can look at examples of those who have gone before us. I’m going to go all geeky on you, so you’ll have to pardon me. ๐Ÿ˜›

 

When Tom Holland was cast as Peter Parkerย he’d never been to an American school, and only had personal experience with a boys-only, strict uniform school in London.

So what did he do? He went (undercover) to a high school in New York City to find out what it felt like so he could bring a more realistic tone to his role in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Viggo Mortensen—otherwise known as Aragorn, son of Arathorn—would camp outside under the stars, and take long hikes to filming locations, and keep his sword on hand as much as possible, all so he could be a more realistic and true Aragorn.

Sure these guys are actors, but they both knew what they were doing. They made special effort to be their character in all ways they could even outside of the camera view.

 

As writers, we should do no less. We need to put ourselves in our characters’ shoes as much as possible so we can understand them and write them more realistically.

Take a look at the google definition of the ‘put yourself in someone’s shoes’ idiom:

To imagine oneself in the situation or circumstances of another person, so as to understand or empathize with their perspective, opinion, or point of view. Before being quick to judge someone for their actions, you should always try to put yourself in their shoes.

Even if we can’t time travel, we can still hop into our characters’ shoes in other ways.

 

Like Viggo Mortensen, if you have a ranger-like character, you can go on hikes or out camping—bonus points if you do it in costume. Find out how it feels to be slogging through damp grass for a full day, the sun crawling past overhead and the road stretching ever before you. Find out how it feels to sleep outside with nothing but a thin cloak between you and the ground.

 

Our job is our imagination.

As the definition says, we have to try see from the character’s perspective, with knowledge of their past and personality and experiences.

Delve deep into the story of the character. What are they like now? What happened in their past that made them this way? Ifย I were like them, how would I view those around me?

That battle hardened general might see everyone as naive or innocent. The runaway might see everyone as so much more lucky than he, maybe with regret, or maybe with envy.

 

Imagine yourself as them and they will become so much more real to you. They’ll be a part of you in a little way, but unique and true to themselves still. When you can put yourself in the character’s shoes like this, they won’t just be more real to you, but consequently, they’ll be more real to the reader.

Writing them should be a natural flow, not a constant struggle of “How do I make this sound realistic?” Instead it should be a simple double checking of “What wouldย he do?”

 

Think of one of your best friends. You know a lot about them, you know a lot about their situation, their past, even the way they think. If you asked them “What would you do if you saw someone trapped on the other side of a burning room?” you might know them well enough to be able to guess their answer. Would they charge straight in to help? Would they call for someone else? Would they take the time to get some sort of safety plan before running in?

That’s how it should be in with your characters. Look at situations from their point of view. You can practice all the time. Walking through the shops—what would Freddy be thinking about right now? What would Jason notice? What did Lucy come here to buy? Even small things like that help so much and it can get you into their head and into their shoes.

 

To be a writer is to be an actor and director at the same time. You must be able to direct the overarching story, but also know each character intimately, as if you’re in costume on set and starring as every character.

 

Chat with me! What do you do to get into your characters’ shoes? Have you ever done any crazy stuff to help you understand your characters more closely?

Jane Maree

Jane Maree

Jane Maree is an Adventurerโ€”exploring the endless wonders of Godโ€™s beautiful creation. She started writing by accident, but since the very beginning has loved the enchantment of words on paper. If you say anything about pizza, superheroes, books, or any of her many, many fandoms, sheโ€™ll come at the double. Aside from crafting worlds using only twenty-six letters, she is a passionate Jesus-lover, freelance editor, self-trained martial artist, songwriter, and musician. In her spare time, she's often off on random adventures in the name of story research. She seeks to inspire her readers to step out and become the heroes of hope this world needs.

18 Comments

  1. J.A.Penrose

    Yessss, characters shoes are important. Or more… putting yourself in them.

    It can be interesting when it comes to things that are much harder to work out though. I mean, it’s hard to get an idea for how to write someone who has been through serious issues as you can’t put yourself through that.

    But I guess that’s where people come in handy!

    Great post Jane!

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Putting yourself in characters’ shoes is important. Shoes themselves? Nah. Totally overrated, if you ask me. ๐Ÿ˜›

      Yes that can be interesting, but really delving into their past and why they think how they think can help heaps, even though it can be a little daunting and dark sometimes.

      Absolutely! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks, Jess.

      Reply
  2. Aposhipolepo

    Nice, concise post today Jane!
    So concise in fact that I can hardly think of any thing to say.
    I do however suspect that you have been/will be doing some interesting story research.
    Also I agree that one very important thing is asking why your character is the way they are.
    I am pretty sure I read on some author’s blog about a shopping trip they took with the cast from one of their novels.

    p.s. minor spelling mistake in the middle of the fifth paragraph.

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Thanks! It was actually a very reluctant post to write, so it’s good to hear that it turned out alright.

      Haha. Interesting story research? Me? Neverrr. ๐Ÿ˜›

      Yess, that’s a very important question which I ask about fifty times per day, give or take. XD

      Aahh thank you so much. I’ll fix that right away. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
  3. Kate Flournoy

    Yessss, /fantastic/ post. 100%. This is one of my most favoritest things about writing everrrrr.

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Thank youuu. Agh yess same. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
  4. Hannah Gaudette

    This is a terrific post! I’ll have to keep these points in mind – going into the second draft of a current project, I’ve discovered I need to remodel one of my main characters. If I can get into the habit of things like this, I think it will be far easier for me to “put myself in my character’s shoes.”

    Hey, there we go – we should ask ourselves what kind of “shoes” our character might wear! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Ahh I hope it helps with remodeling your character! Definitely spend a lot of time with it. ๐Ÿ˜› The more you can practice, the easier it will be.

      Haha yes! xP

      Reply
  5. Catherine @ The Rebelling Muse

    As soon as you’re finished, I’d love to borrow that TARDIS too…..as well as a few other people I know!!

    But seriously, this was such a good post, Jane. Being an empath, it’s somewhat easy for me to put myself in characters shoes, but sometimes I need a stronger stimulus to get me into their heads. Seeing characters on TV, music, and images sometimes helps, but sometimes I just need to be in that situation to really make sense of it all.

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

    P.S. Got your message on NaNo! I accept gratefully :). Can’t wait to write with you guys again!

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      *fingerguns* Sure thing! XD

      Ack, that’s so cool that you find it fairly easy. Sometimes it’s easier for me than other times. I think it really depends on the personality of the character. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Aw yay! I’m excited to have you in the fellowship again. <3

      Reply
  6. Jenna

    sadly, I don’t have my time-travel machine at the moment; loaned it to someone else. ๐Ÿ˜›
    another great post! I enjoy getting into my characters minds, thinking like they do, trying to experience some things they do in my stories. it’s a lot of fun!

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      I bags it once you get it back, ‘kay? ๐Ÿ˜›

      Thanks! I do tooโ€”it’s a heap of fun to explore their personalities.

      Reply
      • Jenna

        definitely! i’m writing down your name so I know you’re the next person to borrow it ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Reply
        • Jane Maree

          Oh excellent, thank you. I’ll await it eagerly. XD

          Reply
  7. Melissa @ Quill Pen Writer

    I love this post so much!

    While I can’t say I have much experience wielding magic like some of my characters (although I wish I could!), I find acting out scenes as my characters, privately, really helps me put myself in their shoes. It allows me to realise how they use their bodies as they talk, as well as what they would say, even though I must look crazy doing it, haha!

    Thanks for this amazing post! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Haha yes. Magic is another hard one to practice. ๐Ÿ˜› But yess, same for me. It’s just rather funny when someone walks into the room where I’m doing it. XD

      Thank you for commenting, Melissa! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
  8. Quinley

    To answer your question, one of the ways I get into my character’s shoes is to pretend to be them, and walk around the room, and talk like them.
    Also I wanted to say, This post is amazing, Jane!:)
    -Quinley

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Ah yes thatโ€™s a brilliant method. I love seeing how other people do it too. ^-^

      Awh thank you. Iโ€™m so glad you enjoyed it. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply

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