Nancy Kress points out that the most important aspect of creating great characters, even more important than craft, is that "...you must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader."
Hmmm. Sounds intimidating at first, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I've done a bit of this naturally, but it was great to be reminded of why we need to switch sombreros.
We might even be thinking ahead to markets, and what our agent or editor will think of our story. This is our Writer sombrero, and it's totally important that we wear it. Cuz you know, otherwise stuff won't get written.
Here's where we step into our character's skin. We draw from past experiences so we can add depth and authenticity. Like, when our character is embarrassed, and we remember our most shameful moment, and our neck burns. We're inside our character's head and imagining what she'd say.
Even with our villains, there's that little evil side of ourselves who comes out to play when we're setting up failure for our MC. Happiness, frustration, shame, fear...we've experienced these emotions ourselves, and we empathize, and hopefully succeed in transferring emotions to the page.
During these moments, we are the character. This is our Character sombrero, and it's important that we wear this one, too. It makes our characters real.
Ahh, this is where we step back and view our work as an outsider would. The reader doesn't know all the details we've worked out in our heads. She doesn't know that we've drawn upon real experiences to add authenticity. She isn't aware of the steps we've taken to foreshadow future events. She doesn't even care. All she cares about is what's on the page.
Kress points this out in her book, and it was a lightbulb moment for me. It doesn't matter if I think my character is the most lovable person in the world, and that everyone should root for her. If I didn't build that up properly, it's my bad. But if we step back and read like a reader, and not the writer who already knows every intimate detail of the story, we make progress. This is our Reader sombrero, and as avid readers ourselves, we can relate to how important this step is.
Are you worried about switching sombreros and remembering to do it all? Me too. But Kress reminds us: "Your ability to inhabit all three mind-sets grows with practice. Experienced writers do this without ever thinking about it. Even beginners do it part of the time."
And why go through all this trouble? Kress says: "...by focusing on character, by making craft choices that build character, by becoming that character, and then by ensuring that all your choices and emotion actually have been translated to the page--by doing all that, you give readers what they want."
And that's what it's all about, right?
Have you ever heard of the three mind-set? Do you do this naturally, or do you force yourself to stop and switch sombreros? I'd love to hear how about your process.