Is it bad to put yourself in your characters' shoes when writing?


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Thread: Is it bad to put yourself in your characters' shoes when writing?

  1. #1

    Is it bad to put yourself in your characters' shoes when writing?

    A lot of times I am asked, why did this character make this strange decision, and I will tell the reader, that I just put myself in the characters' shoes and did what I would do if faced with that predicament.

    But then reader will react like 'well just because that is what you would do, doesn't mean that that is what others would do, or that character who isn't you'.

    So that makes me think, when I write, should I not try to put myself into the characters shoes at all, and write it so they wouldn't do what I would do in that same situation at all then?

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by ironpony View Post
    A lot of times I am asked, why did this character make this strange decision, and I will tell the reader, that I just put myself in the characters' shoes and did what I would do if faced with that predicament.

    But then reader will react like 'well just because that is what you would do, doesn't mean that that is what others would do, or that character who isn't you'.

    So that makes me think, when I write, should I not try to put myself into the characters shoes at all, and write it so they wouldn't do what I would do in that same situation at all then?
    Hey IP. I think you might be hard-pressed to find a writer who does not put themselves into their characters, and their characters reactions. Well, maybe I should amend that. What I mean to say is that I imagine that its possible that almost every reaction that we read in stories comes from someplace inside the writer. It may be their own experience, or one they learned of from someone else and they found appealing for their story, but it almost always comes from the writer imagining what he or she would do in any given situation.

    I may be proved wrong by further discussion, but I do not think it is possible to write a story using someone else's reaction to a situation. As a writer, you have to own your own imagination, your own words. You can't say - I wrote that way because I thought there must be at least one person on the planet who would react that way, but it wouldn't be me!

    IMO!
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.


  3. #3
    To try to attempt to give an answer, a character's backstory, motivations, and goals, all help. We have to as writers try to imagine we are many different characters at the same time when writing the story. The more you know about the characters the better. A character can be made more real by feeling their emotions. This sounds somewhat vague but it's more useful when you look at movie examples. If you don't think a character is interesting it is supposedly since you could not depict their feelings since you did not know a lot about them (an example could be in the backstory of a character). Since that creates the conflicts of the character supposedly.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; July 8th, 2020 at 01:36 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  4. #4
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    If you weren't your actual character when writing their parts in your story. Then how could you write that character? You would be just anybody or even nobody otherwise.

    For example you are Freddie Mercury on stage at Live Aid. You would be seeing all those before you and as you sing. That huge crowd swaying as you sing. You would be thinking his thoughts even down to that you need a pee very soon and you wish you had gone before you went on stage.

    If you were at the front of the huge crowd. A fan looking up at the band playing you would be thinking and seeing everything entirely differently.

  5. #5
    You can put yourself in the character's shoes, but you shouldn't put yourself in the character's PLACE, if that makes sense. That is, you need to try to actually wear the character's "clothes" (personality, experiences, skills, areas of confidence and doubt, etc.) not just write what you (with your personality, experiences, etc.) would do in that situation.

  6. #6
    To go back to what sue said. We must see how the character is reacting. What is happening is not as important as how he or she reacts to what is happening. I assume this part has to do with an emotional problem or crisis (conflict is what I assume this is). Keep asking based on their reactions what their motivations could be. We must sympathize with characters in conflict. Or we won't get the character right and other people reading your story won't finish it since they didn't care about the characters (we must care about their motivation and so on; the why or reason they are doing it has to be emotional and not pure logic). The character cannot withdraw from the story's conflict because the stakes are too high. They are trying to gain something (possession). Not trying to lose something (trying to prevent something from happening or relief). Or tying to get revenge for something. Supposedly that’s the classification of the goals of the characters (think of it as a taxonomy of goals that need to be concretely stated because of the backstory). We can only make a goal concrete it seems when we know the character very well. Their past and what was mentioned before. By researching freddie mercury, maybe you'll have gained a better understanding on how he would behave in a story. Don't forget the reactions to what happened during his life.

    I also agreed with Bayview's point of view. Write what you know applies here since we have to use our thoughts or better yet feelings to interpret the character's personality as if they were the writer (our experiences) (us writing the story). In other words you should use sympathy and empathy to discover the story that is being written. But by using that can you guess what the motivation, conflict, goal, really are based on feelings you feel and think would make for a great story. These are just some of the basic building blocks of writing a character. Research a character's past. The better you know them, the better the conflict and story will be.

    An example would in Jaws, the mercenary to take down the shark is asking for money or 10,000 dollars to take down the shark (200 dollars a day). But the reality is he saw people die because of sharks in his past life. This complicates the character. Is he out for vengeance? He appears more 3 dimensional because of it.

    Quote from a book (emotion, tension and conflict):
    We sympathize with characters in conflict especially if the conflict is off their own making, and they are doing their best to change it.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; July 8th, 2020 at 02:29 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by ironpony View Post
    A lot of times I am asked, why did this character make this strange decision, and I will tell the reader, that I just put myself in the characters' shoes and did what I would do if faced with that predicament.
    You should try to think of what the character would do; not necessarily what you would do.

    For example, in the story I'm working on, the main character runs off to join the circus. I would never do that, if I were in her position. But she certainly would.

  8. #8
    Oh okay. Well in my story, I would never do what the villains do, but I am told by readers that their plans are too elaborate, and that they wouldn't be. But if you want to commit crimes that you want to get away with, and have insurance on, wouldn't you want to be elaborate and cross all your Ts?

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ironpony View Post
    Oh okay. Well in my story, I would never do what the villains do, but I am told by readers that their plans are too elaborate, and that they wouldn't be. But if you want to commit crimes that you want to get away with, and have insurance on, wouldn't you want to be elaborate and cross all your Ts?
    It depends on the background and personality of your villains. If you convey that Villain X is an extremely methodical, detailed person, then it would make sense if his/her plan was elaborate. However, if Villain X "shoots from the hip", so to speak, then an elaborate plan seems out-of-character. The story and characters need to make sense to the reader given what they already understand about the story and characters (or what they will soon understand), if that makes sense.

  10. #10
    Here's something based on what I have been reading. Personality doesn't happen by accident. It's because there's a past according to what I read. To write your character (as methodical) you would need to write a past that forced them to become methodical in your case. This is the incident or event that forced them to behave a certain way (methodical as in careful). In other words what past event made the villain methodical would be what I would incorporate into the screenplay. (the personality or backstory is what it seems to be called by writers)

    According to the book I am reading today these events are part of how people behaved based on the past and what happened to them. If you will this is the backstory information I plan to write. I'd imagine the details or write them based on my experiences of people I know well enough. Here are some parts to it:

    A belief system, values, family and friends, fears and phobias, prime motivating incident (the last one is what past event in your character's life based of each of these to understand what influenced them). I'm guessing the past history impacts the present and the character will rely on experiences of what worked for them if caused them to behave as a person that is methodical. This experience of this event supposedly impacted their lives as a story event in the past.

    But IMO I would focus on the hero and the main characters. In your script you have a lot of villains. The main villain is the only one which would need such a backstory. Since a script is not a novel sometimes having too many characters can be a problem since each would supposedly need a backstory. I am saying this since I read part of it. I suggested this once. But if you decide to rewrite it you would need to do that. Movies need a lot of money to be made. I wouldn't doubt that if it took me more than 3 years to write a movie, it better be good. Or the money I spent and time means that I lost a lot of money. Because I did not know how good or bad a script it was. Movies cost millions to make usually. The odds are terrible to get accepted. If you need to rewrite it you should.

    Lastly some manuals don't always depict criminals as methodical. However they do suggest they like to try to outwit the police and others and earn money while doing so (Linda Edelstein's guide on psychological traits).
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; July 8th, 2020 at 09:24 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

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