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Monday, February 7, 2011

Do Your Characters Talk to You?

A number of authors I've been reading recently have all stated that their characters "talk" to them. That they have very little control over how the story is going to play out because it's really up to the characters who are whispering in their ear. One author in particular even goes so far as to say that she can't explain certain elements of her already published books because she only knows what the characters know, that or they haven't told her yet. (In fact, at times, she seems kind of scared of her characters or at least intimidated by them.)

I find this concept very strange.

I'm not passing judgement...okay, maybe I am a little, but it seems odd to me that these authors attribute their work to this fictitious muse of sorts who gives them the story to write. I remember reading an interview with Anne Rice when I was a teenager and recall her saying that Lestat would converse with her while she was writing. Now, at the time I thought that was really cool and maybe that's what has changed. Back then I was just a fan, now I'm a struggling writer, determined to find my place in the publishing word...and yet, no voice has ever spoken to me with a story and I find myself viewing those who say they do a little more critically then I have before.

These writers are also best selling, New York Times, very successful kinds of authors. People are desperate to read their books. They have tons of fans. Including me. So whatever they're doing, they're doing it very, very right.

So what does that mean? Do you have to have a little bit of the crazies to be successful as a writer?

Again, not trying to be rude or disrespectful but when someone in the real world says I've got voices talking to me we usually give them some space...that or have them committed. Is it different for writers? Do we give them more flexibility to be eccentric because they are artists? Do we take their confessions with a grain of salt and just know that they are talking metaphorically not literally?

Am I just so obtuse that I can't wrap my head around telling myself that a character is whispering their story to me? Is it like seeing ghosts, if you don't believe it will never happen? Or am I just too darn practical that I can't allow myself that kind of creative freedom?

I don't have the answers and I'm very curious what you all think.
Fellow writers out there: How many of you have characters writing your stories? Fellow readers out there: How weird is it when an author confesses that they hear voices?


  1. My characters don't really talk to me, but... when I'm really in the zone focused on writing I see it happening in front of me, like a movie. The characters aren't interacting with me, they interact with each other.

    I also have times when I have a story section plotted out, and I'm writing along just fine, but when I get to this particular section what I'm typing just goes in a totally different direction even as I'm staring at the outline/notecard whatever (depending on what worked for that bit of writing. Nothing seems to work perfectly twice).

    But all that's just me.

  2. Its a weird and twisted world out there and it does feel that as soon as someone is claimed to be an "artiste" we feel that we have to expect certain eccentricities (although at what point plain Bat-crazy turns to Eccentric I think is based on cash in the bank.)

    Are authors different because they write? No, they get to play roles like an actor without any worries about someone having a go at them. you get the chance to say what you always wanted to without getting thumped.

    What I suspect is more the case is that they are able to compartmentalise the story subconsiously so that they know what the characters does whilst a seperate part of the brain feeds the scenario in.

    A good example of this would be dreaming, you know you get these weird things unravelling with different people there and yet the sequence then pretty much writes itself. Any writer has the ability to remember some of these or finds a way to tap into it whilst waking.

    To say that the character talks to them I think is thier way of explaining this sequence rather than going into depth. To claim its becuase they're an artiste leaves me thinking that they may well be but they're a taking the "P1ss" artiste.

  3. I've said my characters hijack a scene. Especially in dialog, the flow of writing seems to take on a life of its own and sometimes doesn't go where I thought it would.

    Other times, I've been walking around and ideas for a particular character jump into my head. Bits of dialog pop up and that's when I might say a character is talking to me. But it's not really to me, more like whispered bits of dialog that I'll use in the story.

    I'd say it's just an idiosyncrasy. Every one of us is different when it comes to this.

  4. I do think as writers we need to have the crazies - why would we struggle that much for so little??

    That being said, I never have conversations with my characters - thank whatever gods! - but I must admit I can hear them speak in my head.

    Wow. I've just admitted I *might* be schizophrenic.

    It's more like a movie, they don't talk to me, but with each others in scenes that require them to.

    I wish I could converse with my characters, might be easier to write their damn stories ;)

  5. My characters converse with each other and me all the time, but I wouldn't go so far to say they dictate the scene or story. What it does do is help me refine each character's voice to a point to when they open their mouth, it's unique and individual.

  6. You know... they say that crazy people often have more insight into the world... they just can't process it well. (I heard that somewhere, I know I did)

    "So what does that mean? Do you have to have a little bit of the crazies to be successful as a writer?"

    I think writers are crazy people who can also process the world around them. (or in my case, pretend to process the world well enough that people don't think I'm crazy unless I feel comfortable around them)

    But that's just me.

    Sometimes when I'm writing, the characters and scenes take over... I'm a pantzer, they just come to me. Even when I have an idea of where I'm going I don't always know how I'm getting there.

    I don't so much hear voices as have characters take over my head for a while. I also dream about characters and that's when they do talk to me. I have one character, Kat, who, if I ignore her too long, gets very obnoxious in my dreams.

    My head is a strange place.


  7. I'm with PJ on this one. I've had scenes run away from me because you get so caught up in the emotion of the dialogue or whatever is happening that it builds to something you weren't expecting or planning. And I do play character conversations in my head, but I don't have a conversation with my characters. I don't talk to them or ask them things and they don't talk to me directly. More like a play the scene out in different directions in my head to see what I like best. Sometimes inspiration will strike at the weirdest times, but that's just my crazy brain, not the characters taking over.

  8. I've come to accept that some authors "talk" to their characters, or vice versa! I don't. . . or can't. Not sure which. I do sometimes have scenes that get away from me, but it still feels internal, not some external force.

    That said, I think writers have to be either a bit crazy or intensely dedicated. And I think intense dedication to such a tough craft it related to craziness! I've got my crazies, but just not in the voices way.

  9. Was it not EL Doctorow who said "writing is an acceptable form of schizophrenia"?
    So by that writer's definition, yes, writers are crazy.

    He has also said that "writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go."
    My translation is that writers can know just as little about our characters as the readers do. (In fact, I compared this trait somewhere to being able to see the story as the reader would see it...even while I'm still writing it.)

    But truthfully, "characters talking to us" and using muses is little more than a different choice of technique. I use what works for me, you use what works for you.
    My only problem is when someone criticizes me for using the technique I choose (as has happened on other sites), or makes references to my "fictional muse."
    My response, therefore, is to say "prove that it's fictional."
    I could care less whether anyone else believes the muse is real or not, so I'm not going to try to prove anything. It's when someone insists that I'm wrong for believing differently than them....

  10. I talk to two of my characters all the time, and they talk back. We are best friends. It doesn't matter if it only happens in my head. We still delight in each other's company.

    (Remember what Albus Dumbledore said? “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” )

    But these two characters never "make" me write the plot, or their personalities, actions, in a certain way. I can do whatever I want. They can comment, but unless I decide anything outrageous, they will never interfere. If I do do something outrageous, they will either gasp, "Oh my gosh", or "No!", or I will feel this inner repulsion that stops me from creating the plot or character in that way.

    Does anyone else have this kind of experience?

  11. I stumbled across this randomly while I was actually looking up characters talking to authors funny pictures. I am probably on the more conservative side of writers (I write for the Christian market) but I can attest to the fact that yes, my characters "talk" to me.
    You know how in a dream every person who speaks has their own unique voice? The people you don't know in your dream talk to you with their own unique voices. Odd, right? It is like that with characters at times. Since I was little, I can remember pretending all my characters were real. When you're a child, you talk to your imaginary characters and you can remember them "Talking" back, in a sense. I think creative people automatically can dream during the day, so like a dream, your characters are incorporated into your life. Sounds weird, right? ;)
    When I began my writing journey seven years ago, one of the first things I noticed is sometimes a character would "run away" from me. Before I knew it I discovered they infiltrated another story. No, the character didn't "literally" do it, what happened is my subconsciousness added them into the story without knowing it. Saying we "talk" to our characters really means that we let the dream-stage into our daily lives, we let our dreams become part of our reality. Really, it's just what writers do. Every writer I know does this. We all like to tease each other that our characters are taking over.
    Make sense? As a conservative Christian, you can trust that I don't get into or like any of the dark spiritual/weird psycho things. But I can tell you this- my characters are a part of my life. I know them so well that sometimes I can "hear" them telling me what they'd do in a situation.
    "Darn. My horse won't cooperate."
    "Interesting, Irina. I think that's because you're not paying attention to the fact his ears are telling you he doesn't like this pattern."
    "Did I ask your opinion?"
    "You needed it, anyways."
    It's your imagination, really. And it's fun! Have fun with your imagination, let it take you places no one else explores. :)

    So there's no psycho weirdness with writers, (I hope so, at least!) we're just a imaginative, dreamy sort of people. :)