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Character Letter Writing

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Back in the day, I used to listen to a writing podcast put out by Michael Stackpole called the Secrets. It was really good. The site is still up, but I don’t think any of the episodes remain available. There were other writing podcasts to which I listened, and I believe I got this idea from the Secrets, but I’m not sure. The idea was on fleshing out characters.

Write a letter from the character. It might be to a character in the story, it might be to a character not in the story, or it might be to a real world personage, but write a letter as the character.

I would expand this to include writing journal entries or even reports. Anything from your character’s point of view and in your character’s voice. Letter writing and journals are great because they are generally first person. A letter works well if you want the narrator to be unreliable when we are in the character’s point of view. If we accept that the journal is actually honest and non-evasive – at least in the sincere belief of the character – than this is closer to what we could expect from a confessional character – a character not intentionally trying to hide anything.

A report is interesting, because it is generally closer to third person – which is the most prominent and popular POV for long fiction – and is the character putting on a character, or at least a voice. Writing a report, the character will need to put everything in relatively official form and this is unlikely to be the character’s natural style. A newspaper article is a kind of report, except for an opinion piece, which is another interesting form of letter-writing.

These are all ways to capture the voice of a character that can help translate that character into the limited third person POV. It would certainly work for first person as well, but I think its real value comes if you have rotating POVs: when you need to get into character, re-read the letter or journal. All the better if there are more. It will help you to get back into the character’s head, remembering the character’s mannerisms, foibles, and prejudices while also reminding yourself how that character sounds.

Because each character should sound different, and sometimes that’s a really hard trick to pull off.

You can find the Secrets writing podcast page here.