Writing Out of Character

Densie Webb_2013~ By Densie Webb

When my debut novel, “You’ll Be Thinking of Me,” was released by Soul Mate Publishing in January, a friend of mine read it straightaway. I had mentioned  long before that I was working on a novel, but she had no idea what it was about. When she was done, she wrote me “Have you been leading some sort of secret life I should know about?” She wanted to know how I came up with all that “stuff.” In other words, the whole story was out of character for what she knew of me. I’ve experienced emotions like fear, envy, jealousy, rage, love, distrust, doubt, all of which are part of what the characters experience. Making them bigger than life—out of character—is what made the story interesting. (At least I hope so.)

So, a little personal background is in order to put my friend’s comment into perpsective. I have a Ph.D. in nutrition and I’m a registered dietitian. I’ve spent the majority of my career writing and editing stories about health and nutrition. Much of it is pretty dry—just the facts, ma’am. I attend scientific meetings, conventions and symposiums and often report on the information researchers have presented.

You’ve likely heard the piece of writerly wisdom that goes “Write what you know.” If I wrote a novel about what I know, it would be DOA. So, instead, my novel is about a young woman who has a chance encounter with a celebrity and ends up being the target of a stalker who believes she has a relationship with the handsome, young celebrity and that the young woman is interfering.

All that interesting “stuff” goes on in my head. I have no celebrity connections, unless you count my friend who used to date the brother of one of Jennifer Aniston’s ex-boyfriends.  I’ve never been stalked, nor do I know anyone who’s been the victim of stalking. I will admit the story idea was triggered by a real interview I saw of a young actor several years ago. The interviewer asked where he thought it would all go from here, referring to all the throngs of screaming girls. The actor made a glib comment about how someone could come out of the crowd and stab him, ending it all.

It was my thunderbolt moment of realization of the intense vulnerability of  anyone who’s in the public eye, but especially actors, who are the object of fantasies for millions of people, including some who are mentally ill. So, I started writing, while researching stalkers, celebrity stalkers in particular, watching interviews with stalkers convicted of murder, reading textbooks and memoirs of real-life traumas of being stalked and interviewing an expert on the topic. I took notes. Lots and lots of notes and reread them and highlighted sections. I was horrified, but on some level was able to, at least temporarily, jump inside a stalker’s head and rationalize the behavior as normal, at least from their perspective.

Getting inside a celebrity’s mindset was a bit easier. We all know to some degree what a celebrity’s life is like—at least on the outside. I had to imagine what his private life, his frustrations, his secrets and his relationships were like. Again, no real-life experience to draw on.

The easiest to portray was the female MC, who has the chance encounter with the young actor. I can retrieve my adolescent and young adult fantasies on demand and have them become reality on the page.

When I finished writing my novel, I was still the same person I was before. I’ll still attend scientific meetings and report back with dry, scientific jargon. But, when I write fiction, I examine the lives of people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet (and in some cases wouldn’t want to), open up long-forgotten fantasies and, through some magic mix of imagination and reality, I’m able to write “out of character.”

Densie Webb (that’s Densie, not Denise) has spent a long career as a freelance nonfiction writer and editor, specializing in health and nutrition, and has published several books and tons of articles on the topic over the years. Her debut novel “You’ll Be Thinking of Me” was released by Soul Mate Publishing in January 2015 as an ebook. A paperback will be released later this year and a audiobook is in production. She grew up in Louisiana, spent 13 years in New York, and settled in Austin, TX, where it’s summer nine months out of the year.  She is an avid walker (not of the dead variety, though she loves anything to do with zombies, vampires or post-apocalyptic worlds), drinks too much coffee and has a small “devil dog” that keeps her on her toes. She is currently working on a second novel.


6 thoughts on “Writing Out of Character”

  1. Vicki,

    Thanks! You know, while I don’t think I’ve changed, maybe I’ve come to know myself better as as result of the whole process. And that’s a good thing. Appreciate you stopping by.

  2. Hi, Densie! Love your name. I thought it interesting you felt the same when finished the book. When I confessed to Handsome I’d been writing and told him lots of things about writing, he said, “You’ve changed.” And I had. I’d moved into something new and exciting and a huge learning curve for me.

    Congratulations on your book.

  3. Densie what an interesting name….. Loved the interview – it was so real and I can totally relate to your friends surprise. I sometimes think about what my friends will say “when” I get published- I assume their comments will be something similar to the reaction yours had. Congratulations on your success!

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