Sunday, February 27, 2011

Talking to characters

This weekend I had a great moment. Drew, who had tried to talk to me while I was finishing up Being Human, started talking again. He had been annoyingly silent. I think he was mad at me for not listening when he wanted to talk and decided to punish me for it. When I opened his document and started typing he got silent again. He didn't like what I had and started refusing to speak. So I opened a blanket document, fiddled with settings and tried again. Drew liked that.

I think the majority of authors - aspiring or established - talk about their characters like real people. We can image sitting with our characters and having conversations. Or maybe interview is better word because usually when that happens we are writing or as soon as the character speaks we grab pen and paper and scribble everything down.

Why are authors so insistent that the characters are speaking to them?

I don't know about others but for me it's because I have had times where I didn't know what I was going to write until after I wrote it. And what I saw shocked me. A great example is when I was writing JJ's story. He and Cage were surrounded by vampires and the leader was intent on making Cage suffer for killing the vampire that turned Cage. The leader was trying to egg Cage on, show what a monster he was and mentioned a baby Cage had killed. Cage explained what happened to JJ and I had to pause.

Where did that come from? I did not know that about Cage! The words hadn't even registered as a sentence until they were typed. It was like Cage reached down, took hold of my fingers and said what he had to say.

Or maybe I'm just crazy. Maybe all authors who insist their characters speak to them are and there just aren't enough rooms in the loony bin to fit us all. I don't really know and that's not going to stop me. I'll still talk about my characters like they are real, still listen to every word they say and let them take control to get the story out. And to my fellow authors, I have to know.

What do you do when your characters commandeer your hands?


  1. I let them run with it for a scene or two. Then I go back and read through it. If it fits the plot and planning close enough I keep it if not I save it to use later or in another story. I am one of the ones who has their characters speak to them.


  2. I just plot out all the major points and any important minor ones and then my characters are given free reign :) works for me!

    The Arrival, .99c on Amazon

  3. Oh they talk to me alright. And argue with each other. And give bad advice and fight enough to give me headaches. And a few get into contests on whose story is better and I should finish theirs first. It gets crazy.

  4. I usually base my characters off of someone I know at first - then let them run wild and argue and bicker - then I end up deleting half of what they talked about - and repeat that process.

    And I decide which characters I like, and give them more "screen time."

  5. Characters are so funny that way. In my first book, I had this secondary character named Billy whom my main character, Janey, was in love with. Billy sort of took on a form and story of his own, killed one of the villains two chapters before I had planned on killing off that villain and now is featured in the sequel to my first book. Maybe we are crazy, but I really do think that characters talk and have minds of their own. Some more so than others. A character my co-writer and I have in our book in the works took over chapter 2. It was crazy.

  6. I've had them hijack scenes and take the plot off course several times. I've had to backtrack and rewrite those parts and like Nicole said I like to have plot points to mark the course. I often don't know exactly what is going to happen until I start talking to the character and as long as they are making progress toward the next marker they have free reign. Great post!

  7. I'm writing a first draft right now. A few times I've sat there and thought, what now? But usually it's pretty obvious what the characters will do. Although today a religious debate got started between them which I totally hadn't seen coming...

    Should have seen it coming when I made two major characters devoted Christians while my heroine comes from a world with multiple gods...

    It was like today they suddenly asserted their individuality and I thought, Oh crap, wasn't expecting that! Can't go against it though, unless I change the characters and that would be a bit wuss-ish, wouldn't it? :D

    Sometimes they take over and I just let them run with it. If they are in character then either they change or the plot does, but if it's anything less than major, I prefer to change the plot.

  8. Characters are funny. I also take sides and have favourites, and if one of my pets does something particularly nasty i'll justify their actions to myself, my future reader, and anyone else that's listening.

    My WIP has a character based plot, so it's important sometimes to put them in a situation and let them run amok and see how they react to the stimulus and their environment. Fun, but often leads to some hefty rewrites to rein them back in..

  9. Thanks for the comments everyone. Loving hearing all your answers. We love our characters that's for sure. ^^

  10. I love when I crack myself up with a rhyme because I had no clue what was about to pop out of my mouth. But, as far as characters go... they've mostly whispered to me so far. :-)