Finding Your Character’s Perspective

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Unless you pattern all of your characters after yourself, getting into your character’s perspective can be tricky. This is especially true if, like me, you write for children. We think we remember what it was like, but it is so easy to forget specific details.

Recently I read an awesome blog post by picture book author Tara Lazar. When she wants to see things the way her young readers see the world, she takes a seat under her dining room table. It reminds her that the world of children is a world of shoes and legs hurrying past.

Me? I tried that out and immediately hit my head. Oh, wait. Every time I toured a cave, I managed to smack my head on a formation. Every. Single. Time. Those are the perils of being a tall child and it all popped back into my memory when I smacked the bottom of the table. Maybe sitting under the dining room table really does work.

There are other ways to bring back life as a child. Limit your freedom of movement. Unless you write young adult, your characters don’t drive. And even if they live on a really good metro system, you’ll have to consider when and where they have the freedom, and money, to ride. If they don't have access to public transportation, just giving them a bike won't solve the problem. Most parents today don’t let their children take off for an hour on their bike. How are your characters going to get to and from their adventures?

Money. That’s another issue for young characters. Adults and even teens may not carry cash but most of them have debit cards or credit cards. Ready money makes most problems much easier to solve. If your character wouldn’t have access to easy money, you’ll have to come up with a new way to solve a problem. Do they go to someone else to borrow money? Maybe they can work off the debt, cleaning out someone’s garage to get the part they need for their fabulous new invention.

Whether your characters are children or adults, writing a piece set in a different time period brings another set of challenges. If you are writing something set in the 1970s, head to your local flea market or antique mall. On my last trip, I found really unique items including a bank of 1920s apartment mailboxes, a map case and an antique dental set (yuck). But I soon realized that I was in a sea of Danish modern furniture. Clean lines, low slung silhouettes, and lots of wood paired with turquoise and olive, burnt orange and maize. For the kitchen, there were stand mixers and white corning casserole dishes with the blue flowers on the side.

Getting into your character’s perspective can take a little work but there are many ways to do it. Listen to music from the appropriate time and place. Find out what foods were/are popular and if there is any way you can sample them. With so many museums and libraries putting material online the internet is awash in historic photographs. Online searches enable you to check out the world your character sees, the foods she tastes and the music she hears.

Use these details to create a realistic setting experienced by a believable character.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 18th, 2019.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Your specific things to remember are quite helpful. It's funny. I love music and sometimes write to music and have even written about people who write while listening to the same "theme song"--over and over--as they write (to help they stay in the mood/era). However, I've never tried listening to music to try and get a handle on an era. Thanks for the suggestion.

(And Sue--if you send me a mailing address or if you'd like to meet in a parking lot somewhere, I have that book sample for you.)

Nicole Pyles said...

I love the idea of seeking out alternative perspectives! It reminds me of a time I was perusing the job sections of old newspapers and I came to realize men and women jobs were on different sections. (Being a tall child, it reminds me of the time I was told by a Disneyland employee who told me I was too tall for a kid's ride I was dying to go on!)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Mood music? Can't say that I've ever tried that but now I may. I do listen to rockabilly when I photo edit.

Segregated job ads? I had no idea!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great tips, Sue! I often go to flea markets, listen to music, and one thing I love to do is use Google maps to "walk" around town. Part of my memoir takes place in Mexico, and while it's not the safest to travel there right now, I can use the "street view" to drive around where I used to live.

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