It really helps. If you know your characters well (and I mean REALLY well), writing from their point of view becomes exceedingly easy – If you are writing a story and you hit a scene that leaves you, as a writer, stumbling over how the character might respond, it means you don’t know that character well enough, and THAT means you’re not allowing your readers to know that character well enough to care.
Writing from deep within their point of view is what makes a character come alive, particularly when you are expressing their innermost thoughts, beliefs and acceptances in a familiar and easy style that is more a backdrop than a statement. Who they are shows in their manner, their reactions, their dialogue and stance, and it is all there for the writer if they truly know their characters.
It cannot be hit or miss. You have to know. If you want consistency, you have to make it work, meaning that it has to be there in the first place for you to draw on, or all you’re doing is guessing. Guessing might sound easier to do, but you are going to end up with a bland character (or a bunch of them) or, worse, one that contradicts him/herself.
Not so long ago, I read a book that had two main characters basically ripping each other’s clothes off all the time. The sex was very well described, although the relationship was shallow and the plot was very lightweight with the supposed storyline taking care of itself with no interaction from the characters (who were too busy screwing).
This was all well and fine – some people don’t want much of a plot – but towards the end of the book, the female lead expressed the thought (seriously) that she was not much interested in sex. Excuse me? The entire book just proved otherwise – a major contradiction. It was a bit late in the story for the writer to introduce the idea that the character was “above all that”.
Whatever the writer was trying to say, it clashed with what she had shown. Whenever a clash like that happens, the story is lost, the writer is suddenly visible and all the magic instantly disappears. Had she gotten to know her characters properly in the first place, she would never have had her female lead say or think such a thing. Or she would have given a relationship to the bedroom-rompers instead of portraying their liaison as lust out of control (nothing wrong with lust out of control – just don’t pretend that either one of them is not interested in sex).
The solution is to spend time with your characters. Scribble lots of notes, write scenes that might never go into the book, throw the characters in with other characters and see how they interact, and just plain get to know their nature as it evolves.
It is an ongoing process. For me, it’s all about reactions. I pay a lot of attention to the way a character wants to go. It’s a subconscious prod, their “reaction” is more likely to be correct for that character and I have learned now that if I go against the grain, it will come back to bite me because somewhere in that wrong move lies a contradiction.
So it’s not your characters or my characters running wild, it’s direction from the subconscious mind showing what works within the scope so far given to that character. If you know that, you can use that.
Okay, so back to that situation when you don’t know how your character will respond… Take time out, forget all other characters and just walk with that one for awhile. Listen to his or her thoughts, get into the mood of the moment and walk with them up to and into that scene. If their “natural” reaction is not the one the plot demands, you can always use another character who would more likely react the right way, or work some twists in that will change the way the character responds.
It’s all cause and effect. It can be done. It’s one of the challenges of writing a story and making it all sit right, and it’s a fantastic feeling when you achieve your goal and make it work.
As an example of working a change, from my own crowd of individuals, Raoul is pretty laid back main character. He’s not a fighter. He doesn’t take risks. He’s very much a live-and-let-live kind of guy. But after Jackie (his partner) was seriously and deliberately injured, it was Raoul at the firing range doing the bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam annihilation run while everyone else was practicing their double taps and triple shots.
I gave him reason to be angry and cause to be deadly. And, boy, it worked.
Cheers all. Happy writing!