Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Getting into a character's head

Sometimes it's not possible to experience what a character's going through but I think it's worth trying to where possible. It would be nice to go on a trip to Florence. I've been there before but it would be good to see the place from the point of view of my main character and her situation. That's not going to happen at the moment so I'll just have to work with Wikipedia and old photos.

This week I did Ashtanga Yoga for the first time. I went to a beginner's yoga class about ten years ago and pulled a muscle in my back so I haven't tried it since. My friend suggested we go and I decided to. I haven't been able to motivate myself to do any exercise since Christmas and summer is approaching.

This is what I recall from the yoga class:

The teacher was friendly and she approached my mat, shaking my hand from above before doing the same with other newbies. When the class began, I couldn't see the teacher demonstrate what to do because I'd placed my mat at the back of the room. The teacher told me and my friend to take off our socks. I'd kept them on because the room was cold when I arrived. I tried not to laugh when the teacher said we were going to practise 'alternate nostril breathing' where you inhale through one nostril and exhale out of the other. This apparently slows down your heart rate and relaxes you. As I worked through the exercises, the parts of me which were being stretched ached. I wondered how I'd feel the following day, hoping I didn't pull any muscles so I could return. The room was a calm environment to be in and I was surprised at how quickly the hour and fifteen minutes went. Towards the end of the class, everyone did shoulder stands and then put their legs backwards over their heads. I decided to opt out of this move as I worried about what I might do to myself. Afterwards me and my friend went to the café downstairs where we ordered cappuccinos and shared a pain au chocolat, noting in our diaries to return the following week. If we could we'd try to squeeze in an extra class every week as the teacher had said this would help sort out our spare tyres in time for the summer (as long as we didn't share a pain au chocolat afterwards).

I doubt I'd have got this information without going to a yoga class. If I'd asked someone who did yoga, I probably wouldn't have picked up the minor details which could bring a scene to life.

We were talking about research in the writing class I attend last week and I realised that I need to go into an art gallery (the kind which is more like a shop) and speak to the staff so I can get into the head of Book 2's main character. I need to know what paperwork there is to be done, how the relationship between the artist and the owner of the gallery works and many other facts. If I'm feeling brave, I could ask to work there for nothing for a day or two (as long as they don't think I'm casing the joint said someone in my class!) I haven't done it yet, but it's the only way Act 1 of Book 2 is going to come to life.

22 comments:

  1. How many of us were reading this and also trying to do alternate nostril breathing? I definitely was! Great post!

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    1. Thanks for your comment Linda-the whole nostril breathing thing is really weird but apparently calming...!

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  2. All very good advice. I did yoga many years ago and I remember that nostril breathing!

    I've given you a Sunshine Award, Anita - you can pick it up on my reading and writing blog.

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    1. Thanks for the award Rosemary, v kind of you.

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  3. Oh, Anita, reading your post has brought back such vivid memories of my first yoga session which, I hasten to add, was DVD based in front of the telly. I swear I took out at least three ornaments trying to keep my balance. Agree totally about actually experiencing a place/task to get the full flavour for research. Enjoy the art gallery. Great post! x

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    1. Hi Jan, thanks for the comment-yes, forgot to mention balance-did topple over a few times!

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  4. Alternate nostril breathing? What?

    Great advice!

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    1. Thanks Talli-yes the alternate nostril breathing was a bit bizarre-don't know how the teacher could talk about it with a straight face!

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  5. Haha - nostril breathing. I've never done that at my yoga classes! lol. I went to a promise auction once to do some research for a scene in my 2nd novel but I ended up getting involved and spent loads of money!

    xx

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    1. Hi Debbie, thanks for the comment. I could imagine the same happening to me if I spend some time in the art shop I have in mind-got my husband's 40th present in there -a beautiful painting of Venice and saw many others at the time which I'd love to get.

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  6. Hi Anita, I'm a new follower of your blog. I enjoyed your post, thank you. I admire the lengths you go to to research your characters. I wish you all the best with your writing and look forward to reading more of your posts. :-)

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    1. Hi Diane, thanks for following my blog and for your lovely comment.

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  7. I enjoy research - from simple ordinary tasks 'in character' to experiencing things I'd never otherwise have tried.

    I've found that if I explain I'm researching for a book, people are usually very happy to answer questions, even when I tell them there's no guarantee it will be published.

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    1. Hi Patsy, thanks for following my blog and for your comment. Great advice re asking people questions-thanks. I didn't need to ask anyone for help with research for my first novel so this is a new approach for me.

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  8. I love yoga, but usually only have time to do videos in my living room before 6:00 am. And there's definitely no better way to understand something than to be there and experience it. Good ideas.

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    1. Hello Carol, thanks for your comment. Wow, I wish I could be disciplined enough to do exercise before 6am. I really enjoyed the yoga class and hope I can get to one every week. I've been running for years and it's refreshing to find a new way of doing exercise.

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  9. Alternate nostril, eh...? I master that quite well, when I have a head cold and I'm switching from lying on one side, to another. Otherwise... not so much.

    I am coming to love research, actually going to places and feeling them. I take lots of pictures and notes and don't use a fraction of them, but it FEELS right.

    Have fun with the research. :-)

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    1. Hi Beverly, thanks for your comment. I enjoy research too and finding out new facts to incorporate into my writing.

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  10. Great post Anita - always a quandry for me - do I write about things I've already done (safe) or send my characters into the unknown and have to reseach them? Nothing on the good green Earth would get me to a yoga class so it's fair to say none of my characters will but the idea of volunteering is a belter.

    I also find carrying a teddybear helps - one looks so damn inoffensive with a bear under one arm.

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    1. Hi Cameron,
      Thanks for your comment-the teddy bear bit made me chuckle-will have to give that a try!

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  11. It's so true - there are so many subtleties that you miss if you do not involve yourself in the settings/ scenes of your characters.

    I've done Ashtanga yoga before (once or twice) and that nostril inhaling thing is so strange, but oddly relaxing. Sounds like an interesting experience!

    http://unpublishedworksofme.blogspot.com/

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    1. Hi Melissa,
      Thanks for your comment. Returned to the yoga class yesterday and it was great, although we didn't do alternate nostril breathing this week! Ashtanga yoga is difficult though and something I'd love to be good at.

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