It was suggested to me a while ago by friend and screenwriter Sean Hood that I write a blog post concerning my approach to writing characters who are very different to me — his example being an atheist writer having to tackle a character of faith. It was a fascinating suggestion, and I set about considering it deeply. So deeply, in fact, that two months have gone by and I still haven’t formulated a solid idea of how I approach this problem!
Writing, for me, is about making it personal, I suppose. When I “meet” or, even, “become” (I like the role-play feel of the first person) a new character, I immediately try to find something in them that I can relate to. Something significant that may not be quite so obvious to the reader. If I were writing the character of a Catholic priest, for example, I would probably look at the questions he asks himself during those long nights when sleep won’t come and see if, perhaps, they are similar to my own. I would look at the man (for, contrary to rumour, I am also a man 😉 ) and approach it from that angle, examining his back story to see how he arrived on his chosen path and also to see if, under different circumstances, I might have made different choices.
But this makes it all sound very methodical and thought-through, and it isn’t quite like that for me. This isn’t something that would be done “on paper”. I find my character and I live with him for a while, thinking about him, studying how he behaves and why in my head. If I can get to the “why”, I’m there. I don’t work at it from that point on, I just let him be who he is.
After twenty years of writing, it’s not something I really think about anymore — not in the usual sense of the word. It’s quite an… organic process, I suppose.
So, how do you approach writing a character with a very different perspective to your own?
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