I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ah, but you have heard of me!

Each one of us has acted at some point in our lives, be it a play in grade school or a performance at church. I must admit I have done several, but I was never comfortable enough to be good at it. I admired those who could slip into character and convincingly live out the part on stage.

One of the best characterizations I’ve ever seen is Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.. I find myself studying Johnny rather than watching the movie. Jack Sparrow comes to life before our very eyes. Johnny has every nuance of the character down pat. You see it in his hand movements, his swagger, the way he talks. He convincingly makes you wonder if the character Jack Sparrow has his act together, then right before your eyes the slightly off-kilter personna morphs into the hero, albeit a very rouge hero.

So what about your characters? How do you get your reader to believe in that person? How do you make the character leap off the page and become important to the reader? How do you create sympathy for that character?

You’ve got to make him live the part, just like Johnny Depp embodies the outlandish pirate that has won the hearts of viewers around the world.

So how do you do that?

1) Get to know your character – As a writer you must understand them. Understand what he or she is afraid of, what they love, what attracts them. Some writers do this by “sitting down” with their character and having a heart-to-heart chat.

2) Give them something to be passionate about – What happened in their past that dictates their future? What affected them so deeply that they carry emotional baggage around with them sometimes decades later?

3) Walk a mile in their shoes – Have empathy for your characters. Close your eyes and picture the scene in your story. Feel their pain, understand it. Then be that character. What would you do? How would you feel if you had lost your mother at an early age and now you’re a mother yourself? How would you feel if a loved one died in your arms and now you are being asked to nurse a friend in their final days?

4) Live it – Now you can be the Jack Sparrow of your novel. You understand why that person has a tendency to run and hide. Or lash out when you mention the word divorce. Or has a joke for everything because that is the only way they can get past their pain.

When Jack Sparrow was told "You're just about the worst pirate I've ever heard of!" He smiled, raised his forefinger, swaggered slightly and replied. “Ah, but you have heard of me!”

Now it’s your turn. How do you give your characters the ability to do the same?

Have a blessed day!

Jennie Atkins


  1. I looooove Jack Sparrow! No, seriously, I do. My good friend and old roomie Maggie and I once sent out a Jack Sparrow themed Christmas letter! I also bought said friend a 6-foot stand-up of Jack Sparrow for her birthday...I've got pictures to prove our dedication...:)

    Okay, now that I've publicly confessed my love, wow wonderful post, Jennie!! Great, great ideas for getting to know characters better...thanks for sharing!

  2. Great convincing analogy and what a great picture! Now you've made me want to see that movie--AND write living convincing characters. Thanks, Jennie. Miss you.

  3. Great post, Jennie! I was just thinking about this yesterday, and trying to decide if I know my characters well enough. I love your ideas, and I plan to implement the ones I haven't tried yet.

    I have found that talking through my characters and story with a crit friend has broadened my characters.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  4. Terrific post, Jennie! I've been impressed with Johnny Depp's depth and the way he can become unique characters. Love Captain Jack too!

    When I'm writing my characters, I try to put myself in them and see things through their eyes. Your suggestions are spot on.

  5. You can't help but like Jack Sparrow, even if he is a rougue hero. He knows who he is--and he embraces it. And he does have a certain honor about him.
    Great post, Jennie.

  6. Melissa,
    I feel the same way, however I don't think my hubby would like having a 6 foot replica in our house! LOL

    Seriously, I think Johnny Depp has captured every nuance of that character.

  7. Dee!
    Glad to hear from you! I'd recommend at least seeing the first movie in the series. You'll see immediately what I mean. J. Depp plays a great character.

  8. Jeannie,
    I tried sitting down and talking to my characters, but they were closed mouthed and didn't tell me much. I found that I needed to get into their heads (you know that Spock mind meld thing from Star Trek?). Give it a try and let me know how it works!

  9. Lisa,
    Some of J. Depp's other characters were a little weird for me, although he did do well in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I guess I just see him as J. Sparrow.

  10. Love, love, love Jack Sparrow! Johnny Depp based him on Keith Richards of the Stones...and Pepe LePew. Read somewhere he spent hours with Keith, literally got into his head (which is scary. Great suggestions for creating our characters.

    Great Post, Jennnie! Sorry I'm a day late.