I would like to address a common misconception among non-writers concerning the statement: my characters talk to me.
While this may sound like the writer in your life is admitting to having an imaginary friend or voices in their head, that’s not exactly true. Then again, it kind of is. But the question is whether that’s actually a dangerous or bad thing in this case.
Have you ever connected with a character in a movie or a book? Felt like they were real? You may say no, but if you do, it’s most likely because you’ve never stopped to consider what’s happening to you when you take in a story. If you’ve watched a movie or read a book and enjoyed it, then you have experienced this.
If you did not have the ability to feel that fictional characters have a certain level of realness about them, you would say, “This is nonsense! They are liars! These are only words! Those are only actors! I shall now go and read an article in Esperanto about breeding wheat.”
A writer has a different relationship with the character. They connect as a reader would, but they also create as a . . . well, as a god might. We can’t create a flesh-and-bone human, so we do it using words, paper, and ink. When a moment comes that we feel connected to that character like a reader does, but also have that character’s fate, personality, thoughts, and actions in our hands, communication is likely to open up between us. Not every writer does this, I think, but if the one you know does, it’s okay.
Characters who interest you and make you want to hate or love them? They don’t come out of plain old words. There are many fine details that go into making that character something more than a bit of dialogue. The words come from the writer’s mind and land on the page. The moment of character connection comes, we care about it. Their actions and words indicate that they have a personality, different from our own. Now, a compartment has opened up in our mind. A compartment with our character’s name.
David is the first character who *really* came to life for me. I repeatedly returned to Tree of Life because I could almost hear him saying, “Saaaarraaahhhh, come baaaacckkk. We’re worth it.” And he was right, darnit.
Every time I went back, I loved him all over again. Which is interesting, ’cause he has a nice psychology/hypnosis skill set going on . . .
If I find out he’s been hypnotizing me . . .
As I write, I have this compartment with his name on it. It’s a totally different voice that’s kept in there like a different font in my word processor. When I need it, it opens up and gives what I need. What would David do? Is this his nature?
I write, “David slapped him.”
Then I don’t feel right about it. Something is off.
“What? No. I’d never slap him.”
“Wouldn’t you? I suppose you wouldn’t. You’d just shake your head and walk away, wouldn’t you?”
“Now, later, when he hurts Hesper? Yes. I’ll hurt him. I won’t slap him, but I’ll punch him. Slapping is only for macho guys who cut deep. This guy isn’t macho, and he didn’t cut deep.”
“I’ll do it later, then.”
“If you don’t mind killing him, we can use my gada mace.”
What’s happening is not related to mental illness (as far as I know), it’s a method of handling consistency and effectiveness in story-telling and, in many cases, serves a therapeutic purpose that will help the writer and make the final product shine. In my case, it works much like a director and actors. I have an almost extreme visual way of processing thoughts and ideas, so I tend to imagine things that way. Whatever way it works for a writer isn’t crazy, it’s just different from the person who thinks it’s crazy.
Writing doesn’t have a whole lot of tangible tools. We may like to write with certain technology, pens, or paper, but as far as ways to amend and form our art into something that makes people feel or understand, we don’t have paint or paintbrushes, chisels, or knitting needles to do the job. Anyone who creates anything has the same instrument: the mind. It just so happens that writers are one type of artist who has to create the tools (like compartments and characters who “talk to us”, for example) in their mind to achieve the desired effect. I suspect most of the arts require this to some extent.
It is right to note that a writer may use the character’s way of speaking in their mind for more than a tool. Sometimes, it’s just fun. It helps us to “chat it up” over something in the story, because the powerful tool in our skull is able to teach us things about the kind of character we’ve made. The more we “get to know them” the more real we can make them. The more useful they will be to the story.
I believe that a character’s life isn’t like ours, but it’s a life in our mind. They don’t breathe or do anything that we aren’t doing for them, even if we say they’re telling the story themselves. It comes from somewhere in our mind that separates them from us, and unless we’re big into psychology, we probably don’t understand how it works. But, non-writers, be aware, we know they’re not *truly* separate entities. They’re a product of our minds, and that is their world. We know that.
If you still think your writer is crazy, go watch Bob Ross episodes and enjoy talk of happy clouds and trees who’ve had bad days.
And, writers, enjoy your creativity. It’s not crazy, it’s the normal behavior of the powerful human mind whose depths science has barely begun to measure. If you’ve never seen the following videos, you should give them a chance. I feel like both of them apply to a writer in their own way, and they’ve inspired me. :o)
Sarah Joy Green-Hart