Great actors are famous for it. When they do, the viewers forget the actor and only see the person they are playing on stage or screen. Some even take it a step further and stay in that role off camera.
But writers like myself have more than one character to consider. We get into their skin, so what they say and do are authentic to the stories we write.
My Isabel Long Mystery Series is written as a first-person present-tense narrative. Isabel is a smart, mature woman who is a bit of a wiseass. As a former journalist, she developed the ability to see through people and any bull they try to dish her. Just like reporting a new story, she’s methodical about her cases. I will admit there is a lot of me in Isabel — I was a journalist for over 30 years although not a widow nor a private investigator. I don’t like that much danger to be a P.I.
Isabel Long is so imbedded inside of me it’s rather easy for me to figure out what she will do in any given scene or situation whether it’s solving a mystery, pouring beer at the Rooster, being with its owner Jack or dealing with her family, including her mother, Maria, her partner in solving crime.
In Missing the Deadline, no. 7, she’s given a tough case. Gerald Danielson was found shot in the head at his home in Meadows Falls. He survived but isn’t the same successful agent who moved there from New York City. The police ruled it an attempted suicide, but the person hiring Isabel has his doubts. Certainly there are people, including a vindictive ex-wife, a jilted local writer, and even an apparently devoted sister, who might have motive.
So how should Isabel approach such a case? I channel Isabel and we figure it out together.
But, of course, Isabel isn’t the only character in this series. Some are one and done in a book. Many others have stuck around. As each one appears on a page, I channel that character so I know how they should react to any situation I throw at them.
Take Annette Waters aka the Tough Cookie. She wouldn’t be shy about anything. If someone dared to give her a hard time, she’d dish it back and twice as hard. But then again she runs a garage and junkyard. There’s her cousin, Marsha aka the Floozie who co-owns the Pit Stop convenience store. She’s another one who doesn’t take crap from anyone. Both are locals but they’ve grown fond of Isabel and her mother even though they are newcomers.
It doesn’t matter the character’s gender. I know what will come out of Jack Smith’s mouth before he says it. Jack’s cousin Fred Lewis aka el Creepo typically says the wrong thing, and Isabel isn’t shy about telling him off.
I believe the best training I received was first as a daydreamer. As a kid, I created fabulous stories inside my head, perfecting them. The second was when I became a journalist. As a reporter, I had to listen carefully to what people said and observe how they behaved. It was a great experience I believe has paid off with authentic characters. I hope my readers feel the same way.