Immersing yourself in your story world

Do you write fiction? If so, you’ll know how important it is to understand the world your characters live in. This might be the same world that we live in today, or it might not be. Even if your story takes place in modern day Britain it’s likely that your characters belong to a specific cultural grouping, and have tastes which differ from other peoples. For example, you’ll need to know where they grew up, what they like/dislike, what makes them tick and what kinds of clothes they wear. So, how do you go about finding all of this out? Do you sit and make a list of their traits? Do you draw (or paint) their portrait? Or maybe you see a photograph of someone and build up your characters from there.

IMG_2871 man drawing from morguefile

However you go about it, it’s important to get the details right. Without them, a character not only won’t make sense, but, worse, they won’t feel real to the reader. That’s not to say that a character shouldn’t have quirks, which at first glance may look like inconsistent character traits, because they should. Characters with inner contradictions, with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides to them are much truer to life—more three dimensional—than a character who is one-sided.

But how do you really get into the mind set of your characters? And do you do this only for your main character, or for all of your characters?

For my novel, The Forest King’s Daughter, I immersed myself in the world my characters lived in. As this was 19th century rural Sweden, this was not exactly easy to do. I listened to Swedish folk music (or folkmusik) to set the scene for my characters, looked at old clothes both online and in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, viewed paintings of rural Sweden done by Carl Larsson in the National Art Library and learned some Swedish cooking and baking in order to surround myself with the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that my characters would have known. It was great fun, and tasty too. 🙂

Most of all, it allowed me to see the world as my characters would have done, and this helped me to build a better picture of them, which grew and changed over time.

Here’s a photo of some Swedish peasants wearing traditional folk dress from Dalarna. I just love the colourful aprons the women wore.

By Louise Hagberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Louise Hagberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And a few of my Scandinavian cookbooks, plus my lovely straw reindeer I purchased at the Swedish Christmas market here in London a couple of years back.

P1050778

Here’s a video of a musical duo playing on traditional Swedish nyckelharpas at Skansen on Easter, from YouTube. Listening to songs such as these helped me to transport myself to the Swedish countryside, and later to the Gothenburg dockside where emigrants prepared to depart for America. Many folk singers and musicians helped to entertain the departing emigrants to keep their minds off the perilous journey which lay ahead.

So, how about you? What kinds of things have you done to better understand your characters? I’d love to hear about them so please leave a comment below.

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7 thoughts on “Immersing yourself in your story world

  1. Hi Kendra,
    A really interesting article – I love the way you’ve immersed yourself so fully in the world. Cooking seems like such a great way of getting into a mindset, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to look up recipes to get myself into a character’s mind, so thank you for that tip!

    I’ve started using more music when I’m writing. I’ll create playlists for certain moods/atmospheres/characters and have that on in the background. It can be such a powerful way of influencing your writing, can’t it?

    I can’t wait to read ‘The Forest King’s Daughter’, especially after reading about the lengths you went to to get into character!

    Kerrie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kerrie, I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 It was great fun getting to know my characters and the world they lived in. I hope the cooking helps you get into the minds of your characters too. I agree, music can be a great way of influencing mood when writing. I’ve begun thinking about ways I might incorporate song lyrics into my current novel. But perhaps they are best used to get me into the right frame of mind when/before writing… 🙂 Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoy reading The Forest King’s Daughter too. All the best, Kendra

      Like

  2. Great Post, Kendra.
    Getting my characters to feel real, took me the longest time, and I had to quite a bit of research, especially for some of the older characters. By the end, I could see and hear them. It’s always worth the time to get it right!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Kendra…

    Great post loved the music and getting to know how you got into your novel and characters. You did an amazing job at it because your novel is amazing and characters are all very memorable… I also loved your photo of Swedish peasants wearing traditional folk dress.I agree it’s important to know your character nearly as well as you know yourself, maybe sometimes better than you know yourself. In what ever way inspires you to follow and write about them….

    It’s a great question for me; I often let my characters lead me into their worlds and show me who they are, their darkest moment, their greatest loves, biggest fears, the things they wishes for and wish never happened. Often I do this by meditating, so I can look around and follow as many as my characters as possible and get to know them in their homes, the times they go to bed, did they scream in their sleep? I have to follow each one on their own even if in my novel they say nothing or very little. I like to know in my mind what makes them cry, happy, or in some cases what would make jump… I don’t do long lists of all I know because they don’t inspire me. I also let my characters teach me things like in my second book some liked whisky…Now I’ve never tried it, so out of interest I did, so I could see why some characters loved it and why some not so much..And describe the taste to myself.. Also sometimes I’ll collect little things that my characters have in there world like a crystal ball etc… And I often write while listening to loud music because it can set the mood or change my own mood, so I’m in no way holding my characters back from their feeling because one day of the week of tried or stressed etc so pick songs that reflect the mood they are bring that day. And even well after their novel is over I still follow them at times and see what they are up to… It’s a bit like having a load of people that I can’t contain, but who once in a while I check in with them, because as an writer I care about their world, their life and what happens to them next.

    I’ve rambled again Kendra…Ooop!!

    I hope you’re well and having a great Friday…

    Fantastic blog post….

    Take care..
    Katie..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Katie,
      It is fascinating to hear how you become immersed in your characters and story. I agree that it can be difficult staying ‘in character’ so to speak on an off day. In the past I’ve often had difficulty listening to music while writing–but I think I wasn’t listening to the right music for my story and listening to it in the right way. Recently I’ve begun building soundtracks for my scenes and it really helps! And I agree, great characters live way beyond the stories they are in. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Kendra…

        It can be, my sister often point out how I talk about my character like could of talked to them yesterday in the street. It creeps her… I think it must be a writer thing…. Building a sound track for your scenes is great.. I think it’s good if you can use music to help. They sure do… 🙂

        Take care..

        Katie…

        Liked by 1 person

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