Continuing with my short series on characterization, focusing on the topic of putting yourself into your work. Again, these are simply methods I have used to create characters. They may not work for you. Your job is not to mimic another author's methods. Your job is to find out what writing honestly means for you.
Anyway, here's a third method I have used which I will call the Situational Method.
This method is similar to the One Key Struggle method in that I take something from my own life and extrapolate from there. In this case, I don't take a sin or a struggle--I take an experience, usually a painful one. From there I imagine greater stakes, greater consequences . . . and usually throw in a couple of dragons.
Remember: situation shapes character. So by putting a character who is otherwise nothing like you into a situation similar to or reflective of yours, you are going to create a character who is reminiscent of you. You won't be able to help but relate to that character, even if that character's reactions are all polar opposite to what yours were in your similar situation. And if you are relating to your character, the likelihood is your reader will as well.
A while back, I found myself caught up in an extremely oppressive society for about two years. It was a church that had very strict views on women's roles, and they used various interpretations of the Bible to support those views. And I swallowed it, thinking this was my godly duty, despite my father's warning that this was not a church I wanted to get mixed up in. And everything went along smoothly for a little while . . .
Until suddenly I found myself in a situation where it was my word against a young man's word. And everyone sided with the young man, because he was a man. Including girls whom I believed were my friends. And those girls were so intrenched in this mindset of women's roles, they even began to spread stories about me amongst themselves, saying that I had invented this whole situation, that I was delusional, perhaps a little crazy. And the fact that I fell into a depression and became dangerously skinny from lack of eating did nothing to help. This was taken as a sign of my "lack of trust in God" and my "refusal to accept reality." Etc. etc.
It was awful. God saved me from that situation and those people. His grace is perfect, sufficient, and mighty to save.
And He also gave me remarkably good fodder for many, many, many stories to come . . . Looking back over my work, how many of my stories are reflections of this situation? Oh wow. So many of them!
We'll speak first and foremost of Starflower. The titular heroine of that story comes from an oppressive, patriarchal society in which the women literally have their voices stolen away. That was me. I wasn't poisoned to lose my physical voice, but I lost my voice in a very real sense when it came to defending myself. I knew what I was talking about when I wrote Starflower.
I was interviewed by a lovely woman a few years back who had served many years as a missionary to Afghanistan. She had worked specifically with oppressed women from the extremely patriarchal cultures over there. Having just read Starflower, she said to me that she didn't understand how I could have written something so real on the subject of patriarchal oppression having never lived in that culture.
The truth is, I don't know what those women suffer. But I do know the roots from which that suffering springs. And I can extrapolate from there. My own, small-scale experience is ultimately a universal. It's a reflection of something so many women across the world have experienced to various degrees of horror and pain.
That same situation of mine has influenced others of my stories. Look at Lady Leta in Dragonwitch. Look at Daylily in Shadow Hand. The situation of my heroine in Untitled Book 8 is even comparable. All of their stories are different, but the situation springs from the same source.
I start with a truth. I add imagination and extrapolate. What comes out is something unique and universal. What comes out is something honest.