Do you become your characters?

I was reading a thread on the SFF writing forum about whether or not people prefer to write in first, second or third person.

The preferred style of writing appears to be third person. This is our own preferred style too. One poster said

First person is probably the easiest to write in, there’s something comfortable in sitting yourself inside the narrators head and just writing them.

Posted by Murrin in the SFF writing forum thread The different Persons on 21 July 2006 and it made me think about how I visualise stories, and characters in stories.

As a teenager I know that I used to imagine myself as the hero or heroine of the story. If I ever made up stories about characters from other books, I was that character. I saw through their eyes, spoke through their mouth, any actions were those character’s actions. Stories I wrote were mostly in the first person.

Over time that has changed.

Now I write in third person, and when I imagine what is going to happen in the story I imagine it as happening to the character, rather than being the character and having it happen to me. I get into the character’s head for some of the emotions, but that’s all.

It’s a very close, personal third person, but it’s still third, and it’s very visual.

For example, in chapter two of BARRAIN Scott and Melissa argue as they drive along to Scott’s rendezvous with the bird watchers.

I see the car speeding along the road. It’s as if it’s on film. I’m watching from a distance, and can see what’s going to happen before it does. I see that Melissa is going to go out and pass the slow-moving vehicle, I see the car almost do a 360 degree turn as Melissa slams on the brakes to take the side road. I see them eat dust as she rattles up the dirt road, the car almost sliding into the side of the road every so often because she won’t slow down.

I’m watching from outside, but at the same time I’m in the car, sitting between Scott and Melissa as they argue, feeling Scott’s anger at the stupidity of Melissa’s argument, too annoyed to even be really scared about how badly she is driving. These are Scott’s emotions, not mine. I know they’re his, I know what he is thinking but I am not thinking them.

When you are younger you react to situations emotionally. Your whole life revolves around how you feel. Somewhere along the way you start to analyse those emotions. You start stepping back and saying, “I did this because …”, “He said that because …”

Life is a lot like writing. That’s exactly the same sort of analysis you do for characters in a story.

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