I often read interviews with actors and actresses – I’m a bit of a Hollywood junkie – in which they talk about their craft. Sometimes they say that the way they connect with a character is to find something deep within themselves that is the same, something they can relate to from their own experience.
But sometimes they say they are playing a character that is so very different from who they are in real life that there’s no anchor, nothing to latch on to. In times like these, they must rely on pure imagination, and sometime it’s a hit, and sometimes a miss. A great example of playing the opposite, for me, is Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully on the X-Files. I watched the show for years before I saw an interview with her in real life and I was stunned to find that she is bubbly, goofy, and a little scatterbrained in real life – the absolute opposite of her most famous character.
I’ve been wondering lately if this same skill is required to be a great writer. I find the best way to write about a character is to put myself right in their shoes – to imagine I am them, and to talk in their voice, think with their mind. But when I write like this, it becomes clear to me that every one of my characters is me, to some extent.
I’ve been working for a while now on a set of ten short stories that are all set at the same wedding – each one follows a different wedding guest. And although the stories are different, and the main characters in each are different, they are all some aspect of my own personality, I find. Willow is me when I feel hopeful. Lisa is me when I feel focused and professional. Luke is me when I feel like a failure. And even Ella – the four-year-old flower girl – is me when I’m feeling playful and silly.
So does that mean that I’ll never be able to write a truly original character? Does that mean that all my characters will boil down to the same voice, the same point of view, in some essential way?
Or is this what being a writer is really about – finding your point of view in the world, as multi-faceted as it is – and then sharing that perspective? Using words to let people know who you are, and what you think?
I go back and forth on this one. For now, I’m happy to be playing 10 different parts – and then some – at my imaginary wedding. But eventually, someday, it might be time to step outside myself, and into someone else.
What do you think?