innerself

Today’s guest article is by author J.M. Bates. She lays out a technique for mentally getting into your character’s skin so you can easily pull up their persona later. – John Of The 72 Transformations

Roleplaying gives us the freedom to be someone we’re not. Whether it’s a completely different persona than our own or a modified version of who we already are, we are given a space to express ourselves in any way we choose.

In order to demonstrate this new personality clearly, it is important to differentiate between our true self and our fictional character. However, it can be challenging to convey our character as authentically as possible. If the reality of the true self and the fantasy of the fictional character become confused, it can result in a muddled state of mind and compromised performance.

I have a mental exercise I like to perform in order to slip in and out of character.

The exercise is this: Close your eyes and relax. Stretch your toes and your feet, rotate your ankles. Allow yourself to sink back into your chair. Rotate your shoulders backward and down. Breathe deeply. Relax your facial muscles while visualizing what your own face looks like. Think about what your own eyes, nose, and mouth look like. Take as much time as you need to fully relax.

Then, imagine yourself in your favorite place. This setting can be real or fictional. Maybe you’ve been there or maybe you’ve just seen it on TV, online, in your head. Look around and immerse yourself in where you are. Are you indoors or outside? How bright or dim is it? What does the air smell like? What do you hear around you? Imagine your feet planted firmly on the ground or sinking into the earth, the sand, the water.

Think of a single word for this place. It can be anything that comes to mind; a noun, a person’s name, an adjective. You will use this word later whenever you need to return. Once you have decided on a word for this place, continue to linger in the mental landscape until you are ready to leave.

Open your eyes. Remember the word you chose to describe that mental landscape. Do not share it with anyone; it is yours and yours alone. I keep my word on a bracelet on my left wrist in order to help me to remember it exists. Simply remembering the word brings me to a grounded state of calm, regardless of where I am or what I am doing. This is a positive place full of what we love. This is our true self.

Mentally put this relaxing place into a box. Seal it with your special word, the word which you will share with no one, not even your dog. Your true self is mentally contained, safe, and put away.

Now, repeat the exercise from the beginning. Start by closing your eyes and relaxing. But this time, imagine yourself as your fictional character instead of yourself.

Imagine your feet becoming your character’s feet, your legs becoming your character’s legs. Picture your muscles expanding or shrinking, your legs lengthening or shortening to accommodate your character’s body. Your stomach, chest, arms, and hands will follow.  Are you a large, strong juggernaut? Are you a tall, thin elf? Are you immortal? Are you sick? Has your gender changed? What does your voice sound like?

Finally, feel your face change. Your chin may elongate down or shrink upward. Your eyes, nose, and mouth will change. Your cheekbones may shrink or broaden. Your skin color may change. Your hair will be different. Take your character’s facial expression as your own. Are you grimacing like Judge Dredd? Are you smiling like a child at a carnival?

Remember that your true body is temporarily wearing a costume. It may be helpful to think of yourself as controlling a mech suit or wearing a full-body team mascot suit.

When you are ready, visualize your character’s favorite place. What does your character like? Are you inside a warm tavern, a stone castle, the cockpit of a spaceship? Can you see the sky? What do you smell and hear? Imagine your character’s feet inside your character’s shoes. Are you wearing an elegant gown, metal armor, leather?

Linger in this place until you are ready to name it. The word you chose will simply be your character’s name. When you are ready, open your eyes, put this fictional world in a box, and seal it with your character’s name. This is the fictional character.

Your fictional character is contained and ready for you to use. In the future, all you need to do is close your eyes, relax, and think of your character’s name. You will be transported to your character’s body and mind, even if briefly. This will provide a grounding sensation, a reminder that you are someone different. If you begin to feel anxiety or confusion, you can recall your own word for your true self, enabling yourself to return to who you are. If anything else, it is a good way to compare two different minds.

I have been using this exercise for years and it has been invaluable to me through bouts of anxiety, roleplaying sessions, and writing my novel. I have found the more you engage your senses during these meditations, the more you will get out of it. For example, thinking of your character’s name, visiting their landscape, and picturing a new detail that is different from the last time you imagined it. It can be a seagull calling, music playing in the distance, the feel of wind on your face, a waft on the air of the smell of food. Just like creating worlds in roleplaying games, the more detailed we make these worlds, the more dynamic they will be.

Revisit these worlds when you have a few minutes to yourself; stuck in traffic, in a boring meeting, as you go to sleep at night. The more time you spend in these mental spaces, engaging your senses, adding details when you are comfortable, the more your roleplaying will improve. Eventually you will feel as though getting into and out of character is as easy as putting on clothes.

What techniques do you use to embody your characters? How do you get “into the zone” to act out the PCs or NPCs?