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Walking in Your Character’s Shoes

28 January 2013

Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal:

To get the details exactly right, [Patricia] Cornwell has hung out in a coroner’s morgue to study forensic corpse dissection and body decomposition. She’s recreated fictional crime scenes in her home with accurate blood spatter patterns. She overcame her fear of scuba diving so she could write with verisimilitude about a deep sea body search. And when Dr. Scarpetta flew a helicopter, Cornwell became a certified pilot and bought her own $3.5 million Bell 407.

We can’t all afford to buy our own helicopter, but every writer can use Cornwell’s technique of walking in a character’s shoes to recreate hands-on authentic experience. Impeccably accurate details and actions go a long way in creating three-dimensional, absorbing characters readers can identify with and care about.

Read the rest at The Book Deal.

Posted by Bridget McKenna


15 Comments to “Walking in Your Character’s Shoes”

  1. This is excellent advice. You can learn all those nuances that are hard to know if you haven’t experienced something in real life.

    They say, “write what you know”, but no one says you can’t expand what you know!

  2. I seriously hope that I do not need to do this for my sf erotica pen name. I do not think I would enjoy the tentacles.

    • ROFL Thanks, Thomas! That so made my day!

    • Ah, but would you enjoy having them?

      I have much the same view: if I get to be one of the controllers, this notion intrigues me. If I have to be one of the controlled, not so much. :/

      Since there’s no way to be sure which side you’ll end up on, I’m just as glad that magic and technology of the sort found in my books does not exist. It’s much the same reason Vimes lost interest in Democracy:

      “Vimes had once discussed the Ephebian idea of ‘democracy’ with Carrot, and had been rather interested in the idea that everyone had a vote until he found out that while he, Vimes, would have a vote, there was no way in the rules that anyone could prevent Nobby Nobbs from having one as well. Vimes could see the flaw there straight away.”

    • LOL!!!!! I, too, nweddd thay laugh.

  3. Kind of wish she’d ‘got the details right’ in the tissue of uninformed speculation and prejudice that was her book about Sickert – a very odd bod for sure, with some very strange habits, but NOT Jack the Ripper. More holes in her arguments than a piece of Swiss cheese. Maybe she should stick to fiction.

  4. every writer can use Cornwell’s technique of walking in a character’s shoes to recreate hands-on authentic experience.

    I’d like to know how I can walk in the shoes of characters who are exploring new star systems, running from the men in black, stealing starships, throwing spells around, battling dragons, or just about anything else I write about. 😉

    • That’s what I was thinking. I’m currently trying to figure out exactly how my characters would walk on Vesta with about 2.5% of Earth’s gravity.

      Flying there to find out would be expensive, though one of these reduced gravity simulator things might be viable.

      • that’s just what I was thinking too.esp the 3M dollar part. Sure, we’ve all got that spare bit lying around to purchase a heliocopter or dos, right.

  5. Oh, if only I could.

    Unfortunately, mad scientists and magicians are a notoriously reclusive lot.

    Although that doesn’t preclude all research: my current book takes place largely at a large public Halloween party which actually took place. While I am not above changing details when required, I had the website for the party open on my computer when I write the scenes that are set there. including the venue map and the set list. Had I known I was going to do that, I would have gone to the party. 🙂

  6. “Three-dimensional, absorbing characters readers can identify with and care about.”

    Scarpetta’s forensic skills are legendary, and all credit to Cornwell for the depth of research that goes into that, but could anyone call super-niece Lucy, whose super powers know no limits, three dimensional and rounded? As for the villains…

    Patricia Cornwell writes great genre fiction, but the genre doesn’t require three dimensional, rounded characters and Cornwell knows better than to waste time trying to deliver.

  7. on second thought, the helicopter is a tax write off along with the lessons to pilot. Try explaining to IRS that you NEEDED TO buy a helicopter in order to write about one. I write about submarines. And big ace tankers. And stealth planes.Maybe I should try to figure out how to buy a …. nah.


    • Just to avoid ambiguity, you probably should buy that stealth jet using your pen name. So nobody doubts it’s for your work.

  8. great strategy, thanks pholy. Or maybe make one up special for the purchase, like Pussy Galore. You know, just to explain to Feds that it’s all about fanfic, dont you get it?? Ian Fleming and all??? You have heard of Fleming, right agent. He wrote about agents like you, well sorta like you…

    I have a feeling pholy, it might not work as planned.Need plan b. lol

  9. It’s a great idea, but I’ll have to wait until the zombie apocalypse to walk in my protag’s shoes.

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