When I began writing seriously, so many years ago, I used to laugh at myself, because I could hear my characters speaking to me. Then, one day at lunch, after an NJRW (New Jersey Romance Writers) meeting, I heard a member discussing just that thing. Someone asked if her characters spoke to her yet. She smiled and answered: “All the time.” I realized early on that my writing style, without doubt, put me in the panster category. An idea would come to mind, I’d sit down at the computer, and away I’d go. So, instead of charting, making notes and what have you, I’d just write – being led by the main character. Who, by the way, when they needed a name, I’d grab the phone book and begin skimming. He or she would always let me know, automatically, when I got to the right one. Today, nothing has changed.
Now, giving time to this thought, it all hit me as though I were crazy. But, the minute I’d begin to write again, I could hear them rustling around, moving furniture, answering ringing telephones – all in my head. I mean, it got so bad that when I went to bed, and got up; actually, just going about my daily chores, I’d have almost a sense of abandonment. Let’s say I ended a scene with someone sitting in the kitchen at work discussing a problem. Getting up the next day, I could only imagine them left there; drumming their fingers on the table, sighing and looking around to maybe catch a glimpse of me, while complaining. “I just have to sit here. I can’t do anything until she gets back.” Like I said abandonment. As I mentioned earlier, I do not stand alone. Does that place us as writers in the disturbed section? I don’t think so, I’d like to call it being dedicated to your craft. I do believe even musicians, while simply walking around, away from their work, are still working. Musical notes continue to run through their brain – like a photographer who goes nowhere without his/her camera, always in the ready.
Of course, there are those characters who want to rule. Let’s say you’re progressing nicely, but there is that one individual who continues to want to get his or her way. From the instant they are introduced, they come on scene with this strong-arm attitude. On one occasion I allowed one of them to have their way. What happened? One-third of the way from the end of the book, nothing meshed. Why? Because I condoned it. When you hear yourself saying, “My characters have taken over the story,” rephrase that to, “My characters hijacked my story.” I say this, because even as a panster, you still have some general idea how you want the story to go. Therefore, you’ll be able to pick out where the takeover took place. You’ve got to back up – back track, and you’ll usually find it in one earlier scene or another. I can guarantee you’ve approached a conflict from the wrong angle in one of those settings.
As writers, but as individuals first, we will all have a separate answer to the question – Do your characters speak to you? Over time I’ve heard some wild responses:
- Only when I’ve had too much Jack Daniels;
- My characters talk to themselves, I just follow them around listening;
- Yes, and they’re demanding, and funny;
- Yes, and I find myself eavesdropping on them.
Believe me, unlike Sandra Bullock in 28 Days, I don’t have to drink to write. I shudder at that thought. Can a person actually, concoct coherency under the influence. But, in any event, in public or in private, those quirky, rude or angelic people just keep right on making noises in my head. And, on that note I’ll leave you with a quote by an American author, E. L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” I don’t think I’m psychotic, but when my people start chattering, I can’t shut them up until I begin writing. Please answer the question – Do your characters speak to you?
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