Have you ever had trouble getting out of a character’s head?
I’ve been spending time with a character named Ephraim, the mc of a short story. We’ve been hanging out for a while, but I just haven’t talked about him much. He’s slipping into dementia and it’s very sad to work with him.
No, I’m not in his head so much that I’m forgetting who people are, where I put my car keys or what time it is (although that might be a good excuse come Monday morning: sorry boss, I didn’t realize what time it was. I thought I was still in college).
There’s one particular scene that’s been giving me some trouble. The few people who have read this scene like it, but have some problems with it…problems that I thought could be solved by ditching the actual scene and transferring the sentiment into a different scene taking place at a different time. I’ve made it several years earlier, at a time when things were less foggy for Ephraim. In theory, this is great. But I’m having trouble getting to know the undemented (yikes, that sounds bad)…pre-dementia (that’s better) Ephraim.
I’m so used to him acting a certain way that when I write this scene, he’s doing things that are right for his character, but right for him in about 10 years.
All characters are supposed to change, but usually it’s a gradual change or there is the ah-ha moment that the author has been building to, so the change is an obvious reaction. Both of these paths let the reader see and understand the change and, I think just as important, gives the author some time to adjust.
So, how do I shake myself loose of the old Ephraim and learn about the younger man? I have a simple plan: stare at the screen until something comes to me or drops of blood form on my forehead*.
How do you get to know the characters you’re writing about? General rumination? Filling out a dating profile for them? Tracing their lineage?
And if you have any suggestions or tips for helping me switch gears, I’m all ears!