Getting in My Characters’ Heads (Holly Schindler)

This is one of my mom’s favorite pictures of me and my brother:

The background: I loved that dress. I mean—love. It was the first long dress I’d ever had, and I felt so grown-up and beautiful. I just had to get Mom to take my picture (with our ultra-high-tech Polaroid)…and my brother, unable to let such a perfect gonna-get-her-now opportunity just slip him by, protested. He wanted in the picture, too.

“Oh, just let him in,” Mom said. At which point, he raced to his room and got the ugliest hat he could. Mucking up my oh-so-beautiful moment with a ratty old red stocking cap.

Sure, we’re wearing smiles in the pic. But before the Polaroid could even develop the picture, I’m pretty sure the boy got pummeled.

Such is life with a sibling.

I’ve never written a novel based on anything that happened to me—never based any of my characters on any person I’ve ever met. (I have no personal experience with mental illness, as does the protagonist of A BLUE SO DARK, and I’m no athlete, as are the main characters of PLAYING HURT.)

Still, tough—bits of yourself just naturally leak out when you’re writing fiction—your humor, observations, beliefs, they all sneak into every character you do build. (Which, I think, is often why a novel feels so personal to a writer. I really think that letting someone read your book allows that person the kind of access into your head that they’d never have, through just day-to-day, face-to-face interactions.)

All those relationships in life—family or friends—allow us to experience the range of human emotions. I’ve never directly based any of my characters’ relationships on any relationship I’ve ever had in life, either. But I’ve been there—through those exciting meetings, through losses and disappointments, through love and anger and sweet moments of forgiveness. And when I needed to describe the relationship between Chelsea and her younger brother Brandon in PLAYING HURT, I thought back on instances like the ratty red hat. Having been there before means that I can really get into each of my character’s heads as I write a book, and describe what they’re feeling throughout the pages of my novels.


  1. Great post--and pic! A great reminder that it's the EMOTIONS that are key, not necessarily the circumstances that bring them up.

  2. Yes! The whole me/not me thing with characters is tricky to explain. Bits of us are in all of them even though they aren't US.


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