Tuesday Tips – Getting Into a Character’s Head

One of the best exercises assigned to me as an emerging writer came from my friend David Gerrold. He gave me a series of emotions, and my assignment was to write 500 or 1000 words (I forget the total now) on that single emotion. Not a story, not a sequence of events, just write that emotion.

People have referred to writing as slitting open a vein and letting it all pour out on the page. There is some truth to that. Some of the most effective scenes I have ever written were deeply emotional, and I think it’s because I put myself into the character’s situation.

One of my first experiences with this happened a few years before I received that assignment from David Gerrold. It was during the first attempt at my first novel, Neanderthal Swan Song.


The book begins in the character Phil Markey’s point of view. That continues for about the first quarter of the book until we change to the Neanderthal, Ike Mudge’s point of view. Markey is a father-figure to Mudge, and the relationship between them is very strong.

Around the half-way point of the novel, Markey dies, and the impact on Mudge is profound. The scene where Mudge learns about Markey passing away is unbridled raw emotion from a teenaged brute who has never shown any violent tendencies until this point. The kid simply doesn’t know how to channel the deep hurt he feels.

I put myself into his head for this scene, and I felt the emotion myself as I wrote it. In fact, i feel it every time I read the scene.


This is how to write prose with impact. Imagine yourself living the emotions the character needs to portray in the story. Remember a time you felt that way, or imagine how you would feel in a similar situation.

Death of someone close is an easy one to start with. That emotion is raw and unbridled, but it is far from the only emotion we work with as writers. Each one needs the same approach. Put yourself into the character’s head and feel that emotion yourself. What goes on the page will be more effective if you do.

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