Create Believable Characters — Using Method Writing

When I was eight years old, I saw a dark and eerie pencil sketch hanging in the study of a relative’s home:  A man holding a test tube with an apparition of a demon staring at him. This visual experience was to have an effect on me later in life, particularly in my discovery of method acting for writers.

As a teenager, I once participated in a school storytelling competition. On stage, before an audience of several hundred students, I enacted the tale of a man tormented by his own shadow, a menacing figure with its own personality. To do that, I personified the scary shadow figure while switching roles at times to let both personalities develop conflict. I won the first prize.

The idea behind this story was inspired by the sketch on the wall in my relative’s study. The man and the demon in the sketch were the characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

Years later, while writing my thriller novel, Smokescreen, I wondered if it would be possible to develop an out-of-body experience for writing my characters —  to let each and every one of them take over my mind. The answer lies in method writing.

The Power of “Let’s Pretend”

To make the characters come alive, I allowed myself to become lost inside the character’s head. In the process, I had to shed my identity and transform into every character to understand each individual better.

Of course, it does not mean you have to be “in character” all the time as it can bridge on dangerous.  Let’s be honest:  Are you going to rob a bank, hold some hostages, and shoot someone just to explore the nuances of character?  But what a writer can do is to choreograph a scene to know what it feels like to be in an atmosphere of a heist.  You can play pretend by using the power of imagination and letting the character create the scene — not you.

What a writer can also do is to study people’s behavior in everyday life. You can be anywhere from sitting at a café to being on a bus and observe all aspect of behavior from facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, diction to clothing.

Don’t Be Afraid to Become “Possessed”

For me, I enjoy conducting an imaginary séance before I work on my manuscripts.  I allow the sensation of writing to spiritually conjure the characters after which I become “possessed” as I work on different pages and chapters.  By channeling the different characters into my mind, I begin to feel, to be and to do.

Method writing is also useful in handling dialogue.  You may write a voice well, but will it sound good if spoken out loud?  To put this to a test, imagine speaking in an angry tone or being drunk. The dialogue must not sound awkward, so it is best to act it out.

You can also use this technique to pull yourself into parallel worlds and enter other dimensions.  Whatever and whoever you choose to be — a human, an alien or a ghost — it’s not strange to be a method writer with a little bit of imagination. But do remember to self-exorcise at the end of the day to become you again.

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Khaled TalibKhaled Talib is a Write to Sell Your Book author. His thriller, Smokescreen was published by Lightning Originals to rave reviews and with endorsements from New York Times bestselling authors. Learn more about Khaled here.

6 comments on “Create Believable Characters — Using Method Writing

  • Very useful, motivating information, my friend. It’s difficult to imagine not method writing in many aspects. It’s imperative that authors define the very souls of their characters if they are hoping to draw their readers into developing those compelling, page turning relationships with them. Method writing is key to this success. Thank you for sharing, and in such a concise, enjoyable format!

    • Hi Johanna
      I think even after the book is all done and published, they’ll still be around and keep you company for the rest of your life 🙂

  • Hay,
    Thank you for this great idea.Everything in nature changes, including human beings. There is only one realm in which characters defy natural laws and remain the same – the realm of bad writing.
    Human development on film works the same way it works in real life: through the conflicts and trials that alter our attitudes and choices. Experiences change us. And just as we are forced to make new decisions
    and act accordingly, so must your characters if they are to fulfill their role as the primary catalyst in bringing about the conclusion of the story.

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