The Voices in My Head

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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ either one of your own or someone else’s?


14 responses to “The Voices in My Head

  1. I often tell friends and clients, “my stories tell themselves to me,” and get strange looks in response. More than once, I’ve tried to direct a story, but my characters will have none of it. They know what happened and won’t let me alter their story one bit. You’re not alone, Katy. Writers are an odd lot.

    • *nods* I think “forcing” a story in any sense tends to make things work out badly (both plot and prose-wise). There’s always suggestions and changing things up, but as a whole I find my writing works better when I give my characters their freedom.

  2. I constantly have elaborate scenes pop into my head, some of which make me laugh out loud for seemingly no reason in the midst of real life situations. My problem is my inability to pull the rest of the story out. I end up with small snatches of stories or even just partial moments that make sense to me but are difficult to put down.

    I like the idea of your characters being real to you though. That has to help a great deal and I’m sure it’s highly entertaining.

    • Thanks for commenting Christy!

      I feel that way about blogging on a regular basis, which you seem to do with ease. ๐Ÿ˜€ It does seem to be the major roadblock for folks who want to write but consistently get stuck and are unable to complete full novel.

      It’s one of the few reasons I think NaNoWriMo is a good idea for beginning writers because it gets people to actually finish something. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Forming a full-fledged novel out of a nano-second idea can be pretty rough and more often than not the only advice I can give people is to just stick with it!


    • If you’d really like to see if you can complete one of your unfinished books, Christy, try a technique I use when I’m stuck: review everything that has happened to that point, then ask yourself what, logically, must come next? Make a list of, hopefully, a half dozen events. These will be your next half dozen chapters. When you finish these, do it again. Realize, also, that the process of completing a book frequently doesn’t always produce the high beginning a book does. It will be hard, sometimes downright unpleasant. But if you work diligently, eventually you will complete your first. Good luck, and thanks for stopping by.

  3. “My characters tend to spring fully-formed into my head like a backwards Athena.”

    I love this! *laughs* Thanks for not naming names, but I’m not afraid to own my particular brand of crazy. My characters are independent, demanding and sometimes downright obstinate. (Rather like my children.) Trying to force them to behave in a certain way or be someone other than who they really are gets me nowhere fast. (Again, like my kids.) They throw curveballs and shock me with unexpected reveals that could leave me scrambling to rebuild my plot. But I’ve learned it’s best to begin and end with them and to let the plot construct itself around their experiences and growth and revelations, rather than asking them to serve the plot.

    I write best when I hand over the wheel and let my characters drive. I never know where they might take me and it’s often a wild and bumpy ride, but I’m usually hanging on as we fly down the road, laughing and screaming “WOOHOO” at the top of my lungs, and I’m never disappointed with where I end up.

    Great post!!!

    ETA: My favorite quirky tidbit? A character who is a bonafide bad-ass highly trained in black-ops, who wears his boots on the beach because he has “tender feet”. ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. A funny tidbit and probably a common one for my female characters – they love sex toys.

  5. You guys crack me up. I wish my characters would jump up and tell me something, order me to do something – but the way my process works? I KNOW NOTHING AND I’M VERY CAREFUL TO KEEP IT THAT WAY. My characters don’t talk to me, the plot doesn’t talk to me, nothing. At least they don’t do it out loud where I can access it. And I’m very careful NOT to ask them to do it. That secrecy works for us…


    • ๐Ÿ˜€ I envy your peaceful existence, Kate.

      • Thanks for the envy and I’ll reciprocate. If this process (if you can even call it something so formal) hadn’t worked for 25 years, I’d give it up in a minute. Not knowing ANYTHING when you sit down at the computer? Voices would be a relief, but I can’t invite them in.


  6. I have to deal a lot with dialogue in screenplays. To discover if the dialogue is working I say it out loudโ€”sometimes while I am writing it, or taking a walk, or waiting for a bus or sitting in a coffee shop (just me and my laptop). I do get a lot of weird looks as I play all the parts in a scene, to myself out loud. It’s gotten less noticeable with the advent of Blue Tooth cell phone technology. A lot of people think I’m talking on my phone, but a lot, I believe, still think I’m a full fledged loon with a split personality, talking to the voices in his head. But who cares, if it works!

    Great Post


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