Talking to your characters

What exactly does this mean then, to talk to your characters?

I do it, to the point that sometime people have started to think I might be losing my mind a bit. I try to avoid it happening while people are around, but it depends how deep I am in whatever story I’m writing, I can’t always manage it.

There’s research being done on it. Head on over to Writers Inner Voices for more information on a scientific analysis of the subject. This is just my wittering on it from my own perspective, which is all any of us can do unless we conduct a study, which is what they did, and it’s still ongoing. They have workshops at the Edinburgh Book Festival, something I can’t attend

I see my characters. By see I don’t mean see in the way it’s shown in movies like Happy Endings, or The Man Who Invented Christmas. I think that level of character visualisation probably would make a trip to the doctor advisable. But that’s just movieland.

I mean my mind projects something I ‘know’ isn’t there, but I see it as being there. They can be sat at my dinner table opposite me at home. The bench hasn’t been pulled out, but they’re not using the bench because they’re not really there, It doesn’t matter. They’re not interacting with reality, they’re interacting with me. You see what I mean?

It’s the same when they speak. I don’t hear it with my ears, I hear it in my head, but it’s no less real for that, after all, our ears don’t actually ‘hear’ anything, we just say they do because that’s where sound signals arrive (side note, what about bone conduction headphones then) and I answer by talking out loud, because that’s comfortable when I’m alone.

This helps my creative process. One time it was so intense, with the character concerned being so pushy, the end result was that I had to scrap my current draft and start over, rearranging it so the were set as the protagonist from page one. They correctly pointed out that this was what I was turning them into as the book progressed, so not having them so from the start made the story confusing and weak.

I was arguing with myself. I clearly had these doubts and this was the means my subconscious chose to make me sit up and take notice of it. The character concerned is around my age, but not even slightly based on me. For a start he hates the taste of coffee and he’s got his shit together most of the time. Mind you, I’m drinking a pourover made with over-extracted beans right now, it’s not great, and it’s entirely my fault.

It might be just that this was the character who needed to be the protagonist. The one who was still had an important role to play, but in the new version of the story having him as a supporting character makes so much more sense. It let me use him to develop the rest of the core group.

I talk to all of my characters, not just the protagonist. I need to, because my stories are character driven. For some writers that might just mean they let the characters play out on the page and build the story from that. That’s mostly how I work too, but I get more involved than that, get into the scenes with my characters, see smell and hear what they do. It makes a difference, It might not change how the scene gets written in the end, but it improves my understanding of the world, so in subsequent edits I can improve it.

Ultimately I can’t that write level of detail down on the page, nor do I want to. It’s for me to build my world with, not to pile into the resulting book.

For a start I’m not a fan of huge books. I don’t see the point in painting a detailed picture on the page when you can paint it in the mind of the person reading your book instead. I can’t say learned how to do that yet, not completely, but I won’t learn by resorting to books with hundreds of thousands of words in them. If I don’t like reading them now, so I doubt I’d enjoy writing them.

I’ve read short novels by masters of fiction that left me feeling I’d just left a hugely detailed world I barely scraped the surface of when I finished the last page. Some of these massive new books that describe everything leave me unsatisfied, because I wasn’t given the opportunity to build my own world. It was already made for me, often making the experience dull and unsatisfying.

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