mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Robert's Rules of Writing #62: Go Inside

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

One of the most difficult things for any human being to do is to get inside the mind of another human being. We all live our lives from one perspective, our own. We all experience the world from within our fragile shells, and with our own personal biases. Entire professions exist to try to delve inside other people's minds, a task which sometimes seems impossible for the average person.

But writers have to try to get into other people's minds. And not just into the minds of friendly, good, and wholesome people like yourself. To create complete, complex, and well-rounded characters, writers need to get inside the heads of some of the most vile people imaginable.

I am in complete agreement with Masello's rule #62, and in fact I've seen it mentioned in other forms by many other writers before. For example, Orson Scott Card, in his book Character and Viewpoint, discusses the way Michael Bishop managed to get into the mind of a character who was dying of AIDS. Another book I read, whose title I can't recall at the moment, advised writers to get into the minds of murderers by asking ourselves what might cause us to feel murderous rage. Just because we're not such people ourselves doesn't mean we can't figure out what makes them tick, at least well enough to write a story about them.

But although I agree with this rule, I also often find it the hardest one to follow. Many writers will say that all their characters are extensions of themselves, and I'm afraid that I am no exception. Often I will find my characters reacting the way I would, even if I'm trying to write someone who is worlds apart from myself. So I've used a few tricks to stop myself, tricks that many others have used. Those tricks include creating characters with belief systems totally anathema to my own, and having characters do the opposite of what I would do in any given situation.

I welcome other suggestions.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein
Tags: roberts-rules, writing-advice

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