I keep my laptop nearby. When I get to this level of clarity, I begin to write. I describe all these things. Sometimes, the pictures are so strong, I am just a scribe taking dictation, the words flying faster than I can type. Other times, I must pause and search carefully for just the right phrase to faithfully represent what I’ve seen or heard.
Dan Walsh is the author of The Unfinished Gift and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. His newest novel, The Homecoming, (Revell) has just been released on June 1st. Both books received 4.5 Stars from Romantic Times. Best-selling author Colleen Coble called The Homecoming, “One of the most delightful and touching love stories I’ve ever read.” Dan is also a pastor and lives with his family in the Daytona Beach area, where he’s busy researching and writing his fourth novel. Visit Dan at his website, read his blog, or follow him on Twitter.
Getting Into Character
I haven’t been a seven-year-old boy for 46 years. I’ve never been a woman. I’ve never been a bitter, angry old man (although there is still time for this to happen). I’ve never been an Italian grandmother. I’ve never been a black man, who’s whole life has been oppressed by poverty and racism. But in my debut novel, The Unfinished Gift (Revell, September 09) I had to become all these people.
In the just-released sequel, The Homecoming, I had to become two more people I’ve never been. The same woman in book one, but now a woman in love (really, a first for me). And a B-17 pilot who flies through deadly German skies, whose plane is shot down, who saves his entire crew and becomes a national hero (those who know me would say I’ve got a better chance of becoming a woman in love than filling these shoes). Even worse, after accomplishing all this, our hero returns home to find the love of his life has died in a tragic accident. Thankfully, the love of my life is sitting by my side as I write this, and has been for 33 years.
To me, writing novels is way cooler than being an actor. Look at all the parts we get to play.
Some of the most fulfilling and encouraging feedback I’ve received about my books goes right to this issue. I love it when people say things like: “You made me feel everything that little boy was feeling.” Or, “Your characters are so real. It’s like I could see everything through their eyes.” All of the best books unveiling the secrets of getting published say it’s essential to create characters readers will care about and believe in.
For me, the best way to accomplish this doesn’t begin with my pen, but in my mind. I start by doing something actors have been doing for ages, called “getting into character.” Before I write a scene, I spend a good deal of time just thinking about it, daydreaming really. I imagine the scene as it plays out in my mind, see where the characters are standing, look around and see what they see. Soon they begin to talk about the situation I’ve put them in. I let them talk. I listen. Since I write historical fiction, it’s almost like traveling back in time for me, peering at the scene as an invisible observer.
At some point, I know which character’s POV would tell this scene best. I replay the whole scene again from his or her perspective. But now I move from invisible observer and jump inside that character’s head. What are they thinking, seeing, feeling? I begin to think, see and feel the same things. The dialog begins. I feel the sting of a harsh remark, the relief of a danger passed, the warmth of a loving glance.
I love it when this happens.
To me, it’s one of the most rewarding things about being a writer. As I get further into the book, it becomes increasingly easier to “get into character.” Because now I know them. A new plot point is introduced. I know how my characters’ will react. They are almost real now. The dialog comes naturally and normally, flowing within the bounds of their personalities.
Some of the best things that have happened in my books have been complete surprises to me. They come from moments like these, where I’ve simply let the characters say and do what they must. After I’ve captured their ideas and written them down, I feel almost compelled to thank them.
But really, the One I thank most for all these things is God. The Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Our imagination is one of those marvelous gifts. And so is the gift to be able to write down what our imaginations create so that others can share our experience.
Now obviously, I’m describing the creative side of the writing process. My books don’t flow out of this process perfectly formed. Like everyone else, after these creative surges the other side of my brain must engage. I edit, refine, rewrite. Wait a little while, and do it again. I listen to my lovely wife’s input and wonderful editor’s suggestions, and rewrite some more.
By and by, the book is ready for print.
If you’d like to study this idea in more depth, I’d encourage you to check out a book I became aware of as I researched this article, written by Brandilyn Collins. It’s called “Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors.”
If you haven’t tried this method for creating realistic, relevant characters you’re in for a treat. If you’ve been doing this awhile, share some of your stories with us. I’d love to hear some of the roles you’ve played, especially those most unlike the real you.
No sooner is Shawn Collins home from the fighting in Europe than he is called upon to serve his country in another way–as a speaker on the war bond tour. While other men might jump at the chance to travel around the country with attractive Hollywood starlets, Shawn just wants to stay home with his son Patrick and his aging father, and grieve the loss of his wife in private.
When Shawn taps Katherine Townsend to be Patrick’s nanny while he’s on the road, he has no idea how this decision will impact his life. Could it be the key to his future happiness and the mending of his heart? Or will the war once again threaten his chances for a new start?
Dan Walsh does not disappoint in this tender story of family ties and the healing of a broken heart.