Getting Into Character

By Alistair Cross

Alistair Cross

I have always had make-believe people living in my head. I know how that sounds and I am willing to admit it has psychotic connotations – but quirky, questionable, crazy, or otherwise, it’s the truth. Psychologists might say I was unhappy and turned to creating an alternate reality to escape the misery of my own world. But I don’t believe that. I was a perfectly happy child. Odd, but happy. I just liked the idea of making up my own people whose lives I could script and design; people who would live or die under my ruthless command (insert evil laugh here). This reserve of fully-developed characters is why I generally use multiple points-of-view in my writing.

I was lucky to be able to put several of my unemployed fictional characters to work in my last novel, The Angel Alejandro. The Angel Alejandro is an urban fantasy/dark fiction story about an angel who crash-lands on earth, in the koi pond of an unsuspecting young woman named Madison who’s trying her best to make her way through the world alone.

The million-mile fall results in a severe case of amnesia – and before the stunningly beautiful angel, Alejandro, has a chance to figure out who he is, a horde of demonic entities come to town, eager to capitalize on his lost identity, and harvest his soul. As he and Madison set out to recover his past, the entire town of Prominence is slowly going mad: There’s vandalism and violence, brutality and bloodshed – and the terror is slowly closing in, putting Alejandro and Madison at its center.

It was the use of this fictional small town, Prominence, that allowed me to further explore some of the characters who’ve been living in my head – and some of them have been there for years, from the days when I used to sketch them out in notebooks, before I wrote novels.

That said, you’d think that by now, when I sat down to write a book, I’d just pull out an old notebook and pick and choose characters, but I’m still coming up with new people all the time. Different stories require different personalities, some of which, I’m sure, haven’t yet come to my attention.

But that’s one of the most fascinating things about being a fiction writer: getting into the minds of the characters. I use the word fascinating rather than fun because it isn’t always exactly fun. For example, while writing the psychological thriller, Mother, with Tamara Thorne, I was mortified at times to be in the mind of the mother in question. Priscilla Martin – she was a character so vile that even Tamara and I cringed.

Another sometimes uncomfortable head to be in belonged to Gretchen VanTreese, the antagonist of my vampire novel, The Crimson Corset. Not only did Gretchen like to blend sex and murder (which was pretty gruesome at times) but she had a very specific way of seeing things – a way of seeing things that was foreign to me.

But learning to see through the eyes of multiple characters exposes new layers in the stories and I’ve learned that I like “getting into character” far too much to limit myself to one – or even two – points-of-view. I’ve written in first-person before and enjoyed it, but it does have its limitations.

To me, reading is a lot like watching a movie or television show – and how interesting would it be if every single scene had to include the main character and he or she was the only point-of-view through which we, the audience, could experience the plot? In some stories – especially in crime and detective novels – it works.

But generally, I like being given glimpses into what’s going on behind the main character’s back; it tends to get me more emotionally involved in the plot and psychologically bonded to the main character. And this is why I, as a writer, love nothing more than “getting into character.”