A friend once said to me, “I don’t know what’s f-ed up more…your crazy conversations with the voices in your head…or our complete acceptance that they’re real people.”
I don’t blame her, or anyone else for thinking I’m crazy. Sure I’m a writer, but even I’ll admit it’s a little wacky to be actually talking to your characters. Which is something I do – a lot.
But I’m not the only one. I could name names, but I’m a nice girl. There are a number of authors out there, some of whom have made a very good name for themselves off the voices in their heads.
It’s often difficult to describe my writing process to strangers. My friends and CPs already know when I start a novel it’s because the characters have been whispering in my ears for months (if not years). More often than not I’ve got a full background on the world I’m working in, a detailed profile of the main character and a number of secondaries.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t surprises. I’m frequently surprised by my characters. “What did you go and do that for?” Is among the things you’ll hear me shouting in my office when I’m working. *laughs* Sometimes I can finagle things so that my ideas don’t go totally out of control, but I find I do my best writing when I let the characters take the lead. After all, it’s their story, I’m just lucky enough to be writing it down.
It’s an organic (some will say odd) way of writing. I hear and see characters and stories more than I feel like I create them. Scenes play out in front of my eyes and then I translate what I’ve just seen onto the page. My husband or roommate will frequently find me sitting in my office with my eyes closed and the most common response to “what are you doing?” is “I’m trying to see what’s going on.”
My characters tend to spring fully-formed into my head like a backwards Athena. I learn things about them as I go along, things like speech patterns and odd quirks that will often necessitate going back into a manuscript and adding these details into previous chapters for continuity’s sake. But they’re living, breathing beings to me from the moment I learn of their existence. They have lives that started before the story I tell and oftentimes stretch on for long after the story is over. It’s not just the major stuff that’s important. The small, silly details are too. I have a series, for example, where there’s an ongoing debate about crunchy versus creamy peanut butter. *laughs* I have a list of the characters and which side of the argument they fall on. It has absolutely no relevance to the plot, but it’s fun and it’s real.
I enjoy the depth of this kind of character development and I encourage other writers to dive beneath the surface of their characters and find out what’s there. You might discover something that will surprise you.
In the meantime, what’s the funniest tidbit you’ve discovered about a character – either one of your own or someone else’s?