The Crafting Characters Series #2 How To Get Into Your Character’s Head

Red hardcover book with flipping pages

Character Journals

Most writers at some point in their life have written a journal of some kind. Whether it be a personal daily diary type journal, a writing journal, an art journal, writing daily notes, ideas and thoughts or even a blog.

Journalling gives you an insight into your self, into your thoughts, and even how you think. It helps you – no matter what format it comes in – to get to know yourself better, and work through your issues.

I am going to focus on daily diary type journals for the purpose of this particular blog. This whole series is like a working project for me, I am literally working through everything I talk about here, trying to develop my own characters for my novel. I hope that some of what I learn along the way will help you (and me) craft better characters.

I started writing my first diary in January 1993 – I got it for Christmas ’92. I was 5. I literally have hundreds of journals. I wrote for over a decade, infact, I wrote until I was 18 when I met one of my ex’s. Who was a particularly nasty and abusive person. I didn’t realise for a long time afterwards why I had stopped writing when I met him. It wasn’t until I picked up my journal again that I understood why I had stopped writing. When I journal, I open the doors to a level of honesty I can only share with that page. I am so honest about my feelings and thoughts that sometimes I don’t even want to know the truths I’m writing. So I write them all down and hide them away in diaries so that no one can see what I really think or feel, not even me. If I had written a journal when I was with this person, I would have realised much sooner they were abusing me. But I wasn’t ready, so I gave up writing. To this day I still can’t look at my journals, they are locked away in a big trunk in the loft getting musty and mouldy!

Why am I telling you this? Well, when we create characters, we need that level of depth, and self awareness about our characters in order to create something readers can feel with and feel for. We need to know what our characters don’t want to admit to themselves. We need to know their deepest truth, the things that scare them and why, we need to know what they want to tell their friends and family, but even more important, we need to know what they DON’T want their frends and family to know. We need that insight into how they feel about themselves, and their actions.

The thing about journal entries, is, its not prose, not like a fiction story. It’s a stream of consciousness, a thought process laid bare. It is raw emotion, subjective, biased feeling. You don’t have to worry about dialogue or excessive description or being perfect with grammar. Unless your an English teacher, or thats how your character thinks, you just need to be in their head and lay their consciousness out on the page.

What am I suggesting?

Take your protagonist and/or antagonist and write a journal entry for each of them about the same day? Choose the day carefully, think about the plot, and either a) where you could do with developing the plot more, or the characters, b) a day where something significant happens,  or c) a day when something emotive happens to your character.

You may never need to use the journal entry in your novel or story, or, you might! But what it will definitely do is help you to bring a depth to your stories, it will help you to understand better how your character reacts to events, and emotions.

I’ve chosen C. I am going to write about the day my main character (Eden) gets her first kiss (she’s 17). The problem is, this kiss seals a truth in her mind she didnt want to know. The person she loves (who kisses her) is lying to her.

Let me know if you do a journal entry and whether or not it helped.

Eden’s Journal. 5th quarter of Siren Summer, in the Ancient Forest.

I feel everything. Devastation. Frustration. Anger. Desperation. I hate that I feel desperate. I’m better than that. But no matter how much I don’t want it to be true, he’s lying and I know it. How could he? He’s bound to me for god sake. We have to spend the rest of our lives together and he’s lied to me already. What if this isn’t the only thing he’s lied about? What if there are other lies? The most irritating part is I don’t even know what it is he’s lying about. I just know he is. 
 
I hate liars. More than anything, I hate liars. I’ve been lied to so many times, by everyone I’ve ever liked and by Bo. But I can’t even bring myself to talk about that disgrace of a friend. I’m rambling.
 
Cassian. He kissed me.
 
It was my first kiss…Like ever. Not just with him, but ever, ever. And he ruined it. He can never take it back. We were walking to the council chamber under the ancient forest archway. You know, the beautiful pink one, that smells of a thousand summers. It was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting or a better moment for a first kiss.
 
But Cassian’s been weird. I think, for longer than I want to admit to. There has been someting not quite right. I’ve been feeling like he’s hiding something. He always stands like he’s ready to run, like someone’s going to attack him. Like he’s guarding himself? But why? Everytime I talk to him I feel like theres something on the tip of his tongue he wants to tell me and he can’t. Every sentence he says feels unfinished. And the longer he spends in the Netherworld, the worst it’s getting. He looked exhausted today, like he had been carrying the weight of a thousand Nerpeople. 
 
Which reminds me how the hell did he lift Arden so easily to safety the other day? And how did he throw those Praeth off him? It was effortless. No human can do that? 
 
I KNEW he was lying about something.
 
So I asked him.
 
Under the pink archway on our way to the Council meeting. I outright asked him.
 
I asked him what he was hiding.
 
And instead of answering. He kissed me. HE KISSED ME. How could he? Not only do I now know for definite that hes lying, he used our first kiss, a moment thats meant to be treasured to lie to me. I hate him for it… HATE HIM
 
I don’t hate him at all. I think… I think, I love him.
 
I think, I’m IN love with him.
 
I wish it weren’t true. I wish it with every fiber in my being not to be true. How could I of all people love a liar? It’s everything I despise in a person…and I’ve fallen in love with him.
 
I feel like the longer I’m with him, the more I have to brake every moral code I’ve ever believed in. For a human. I never thought someone could make me do that. I don’t like it, but there’s nothing I can do. I can’t change how I feel. I’m stuck, and it’s terrifying. But I have to find out. I need to know what he’s hiding.
 

16 comments

  1. Great advice. I actually started doing character interviews once a month with characters from my story. You learn a lot about them when you do something like that. You’re writing them, but they have a say in everything. It’s very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rachel. Funny you mention the character interviews that’s my next post in this series! I’ve created my own interview template because I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. I saw your character interviews – I really liked your concept of questions for the author followed by questions for the character. Think you just posted about Lilah – will have a read after work 🙂

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      1. Yes – point well made – and very well reminded!!!! really ought to finish the interview and add it to the post – have so far only added my template for others to use! Completely forgot I needed to add the finished thing!

        Can’t wait to reads Lilah’s 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I only started a journal in 2005/6 when I took up writing. I never made the link – it seemed natural at the time to just have a go at writing and a journal complimented that) – but my father died in March 2005 and in my family he was the writer. I think – I hesitate to cod-analyse myself – that I didn’t want to usurp him and the importance he gave to his writing. I think I feared he might have seen it as an attempt to compete – I am very competitive though these days I know I am and shoot myself if I can see it getting out of hand. The journal took time to become honest and I still edit because I have a residual fear that someone I care for might read it and I don’t want a heat of the moment emotion to be read later in the cold light of day without the context being clear. It’s right what you say about character though, we do need to understand them. I know I’m getting to that point when they take over my writing and set off in directions I hadn’t consciously considered when I started writing the particular chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is very interesting, and thanks for writing such a personal and honest comment. I know exactly what you mean about editing for fear of a loved one seeing out of context emotion. It’s odd but why is it that when something’s written down its so much worst? You could probably ‘say’ whatever it is you wrote and it wouldn’t seem as bad. But God forbid you write it down and commit it to paper, well, then, of course you meant exactly what you wrote when you were blind with fury, but, you didn’t when you shouted it… You know?! It’s silly that it can be taken so out of context. Reminds me of Bridget Jones and Darby reading her diary right at the end. I wanted to pick up on your other point… About raw emotion, and then fact a) it takes time to be honest in a diary, and what does that mean? Do we know we are lying to ourselves? Is that the point? Do our characters lie to themselves? Probably – but like us its context dependent. But maybe we can use that in our stories. The other point… ‘Raw’ emotion – that. That right there, is what I want people reading my work to feel. So if I portray that in my own personal journal, then what is it I can learn, and take with me? What is it that I am doing that shows such raw emotion, and how do I convey that with my characters?! I haven’t written a journal for a while – I temporarily did when I was having fertility issues, but gave up when I fell pregnant. Maybe I need to go back and analyse some of my entries to see what it is, how things are phrased that will help me with character emotion…. Hmm I feel another blog post coming! I’ve rambled enough for now!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha glad to be helpful… I think?! Love that post – particularly the bit about what it does to our energy and blocking- now that’s a reaaaally interesting point, and possibly a can of worms for another day! Or at least not at 4:48am when I’m being an insomniac !

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