You know the feeling you have when you’re reading a riveting story and you can see the setting in your mind’s eye and the characters come alive: You can see what they’re doing and feel what they’re feeling. You forget that you’re reading the story and feel like you’re living in it, experiencing everything as it happens.
As writers, we want our characters to come to life in this way, but making it happen takes skill and intention. In “The art of visualization: How to make your characters and settings come alive,” a feature in The Writer (February, 2018), author K.L. Romo offers two methods to help you plunge your readers into your characters’ skin, psyche, and world:
The “Blindfold” Technique: This approach is like method acting: You use it to recall the sensations and feelings of an intense incident in your own life and then tap into those physical and emotional memories to energize a character or situation.
For example, as Romo suggests, “Transport yourself to a time when something outrageously humiliating happened to you. Imagine yourself in that very moment. What do you hear? See? Smell? And most importantly, what do you feel?
“What is your body language? Are your shoulders slumped in surrender? Is your head hanging low, looking down at your feet? Are your cheeks hot to the touch and turning a bright apple red? Are you trying to make yourself invisible?” Are there people around you who saw what happened? Are they laughing or defending you? Are there smells surrounding you?….”
“Now think about a scene you’re writing for your current work in progress. Close your eyes and zoom in on character. Imagine yourself in her skin, down to the very last detail, and put these elements down on the page.”
”The “Immersion” Technique: Another way to “intimately visualize your characters, their environment, and how they would react in any given circumstance,” notes Romo, “is to immerse yourself in their world. Like learning a new language, having to live it makes you absorb it from the inside out.”
Jodi Picoult, the bestselling author of 22 books, says, “I find that visualization comes best from immersion. I do extensive research to learn what my character does, where she comes from, who she associates with, what her history may have been. Walking through those experiences personally, and meeting with those who actually live the life I am planning to have my character live, allows me to pick and choose moments and images, and weave them together…”
Whichever method you use, observes Romo, “to have fully fleshed our characters in your fiction, you’ve got to include all the details: their appearance, environment, sensory perceptions, and inner thoughts and beliefs.” Great advice – write on!