Writing Process? No Thanks, I Have Characters in My Head

My characters are almost like children. They narrate, hold conversations, give me plot points and yell at each other in my head. And I know when a character wants attention. (It’s almost like having an annoying brother or sister poking at you.) Sometimes it’s amazing and other times it’s frustrating as can be. Especially when they start talking when I’m driving or in the shower, or anywhere else I can’t write down their running commentary. A few times they’ve been nice enough to repeat the entire scene later. Most of the time I just somehow remember it. Sometimes I even “see” the whole scene like I’m watching a movie. (When that happens, I know it’ll be a good one and likely will make it through all the editing.)

And then there are the characters themselves. No two are alike. Some reveal themselves slowly, in their own sweet time. Take Arthur. He’s very mysterious; getting him to reveal anything is like pulling teeth. And I think he likes it that way. Isolde, on the other hand, waltzed into my head complete and promptly informed me she wants her own novel (hence, book four). She pretty much took over and became a much more central character to my first book than I thought. Now in the second book, she pops in and out as she pleases. Still other characters don’t seem to come alive until I’ve found an actor or actress who both looks the part and has the talent to pull the character off – then watch out! There’s no stopping them once they get going.

All of this to say, I really don’t feel like I’m in control of my writing. It’s more like I’m channeling an outside wisdom or something. Sometimes when I write, right in the middle of a scene one of my characters will do something I never expected or don’t understand. I spent most of one scene literally saying out loud, “Okay, where are we going with this? What’s going on?” But by the time I finished writing the scene (with no premeditation on my part), it was not only really good, it became key to the plot.

I have an outline, note cards, a plan, all that traditional stuff, but that doesn’t mean my characters care. My first book went pretty much according to plan except for a scene here and there, but the second book is taking on a life of its own. Characters are showing up sooner than I expected, dying sooner than I planned or having different relationships than I thought they would. So much so that I had to sit down and re-outline the whole book once I was about a quarter of the way into writing it. The things I’ve already written stayed the same, but it was nearly impossible to try to match an old outline up to a new timeline.

And the even crazier thing is, I’m finding out I’m not alone. A few days ago I had the amazing privilege of meeting author Alyson Noel (future blog post to come on that). When asked how her Immortals books came about, she said her main character, Ever, came into her head with a story to tell. That’s exactly how my book series happened. Guinevere started talking in my head and demanded her story be told. Alyson also said she talks to her characters more than her husband. Sadly, I think I talk to my characters more than any actual people I know.

A few weeks ago, Dianne Sylvan, a writer I follow on Twitter (@dslyvan), said “Here’s something you should know about writers: we are not fully in control of the story we’re writing…If we’re doing our jobs, it’s like we’re possessed by our characters; we live in multiple worlds at once. It sounds woo-woo, but it’s true.” And that’s pretty much how it works for me. I’ve also read interviews where Sue Grafton has been asked what’s coming next and she answers, “I don’t know. Kinsey [her main character] hasn’t told me yet.” Even JK Rowling has said that Harry Potter pretty much walked fully formed into her head (much like Isolde did with me).

At least if I’m crazy, I know I’ll have some pretty good company (and some amazingly entertaining stories) in the loony bin. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go break up a fight between the voices in my head. With any luck, they’ll write the next chapter for me.

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3 thoughts on “Writing Process? No Thanks, I Have Characters in My Head

  1. Pingback: A Dream Come True: Meeting Alyson Noel « Through the Mists of Time

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