Me: “I woke up every hour on the hour, all night long. A couple times, I only made it half an hour.”
Him: “Why? You worried about something?”
Me: “Truthfully, Harmon* wouldn’t leave me alone. I left him in a really tough spot, and he wanted me to finish the scene.”
Him: ….. o.O
Me: ….. What?
Him: “You’re scaring the Ken.”
Most writers I’ve met talk about their characters as if they were going to walk into the room at any moment, plop down in a chair, kick their shoes off and order up a cup of coffee.
Personally, I see my characters so clearly in my mind that I can describe them to the tiniest detail. And if some facet of their being is left a mystery, I just ask them to reveal it to me at the right time. When I discuss them outside the context of fingers-on-keyboard, I do not describe them as fictional. Rather, I put them in the context of living, breathing people with thoughts, feelings and opinions.
And yes, I talk to them.
So if you see me in my car having a conversation with myself, chances are, I’m not on my phone. I’m not talking to someone in the back seat. And I’m not exactly holding a conversation with myself. I’m asking my characters what their goals are. What they’re going to do next. How they’re feeling.
My characters come to me in quiet moments; when I’m laying down to sleep, or just waking up; when I’m in the shower or on the road; when I’m having a conversation with someone and they interrupt me like one of my children would… They’re always there. The stories unfold in my mind as they remember what it is they wanted to tell me. Typically I can remember these “ideas” because all I have to do is sit down at the keyboard and ask them, “What was that again?”
Chuck Wendig posted a phenomenal, multi-point NaNoWriMo Survival Guide on his blog. Point 12 was this:
“I let the characters lead the way. When I doubt, I ask what do they want in this scene, what do they want overall, and what is most important? I let them run with it. And this usually runs them into other characters who are either competing for the same thing or who want opposing things. Characters have problems. They use the fiction to confront those problems (often poorly). This is the engine of storytelling. Seize it, let it guide you. Do not let “plot” dominate this core character-driven component.”
The problems that my characters have aren’t my problems. And I don’t sit around and think, “What predicaments can I put my characters in today?” I ask them… What next? And now? And how about now?
I guess it’s a lot like having imaginary friends as a kid. Which… I did. I just didn’t realize I was supposed to write down what they told me.
Now that I know better, I let my characters lead me down their path, in their way, toward their goals. Sometimes I think they are brilliant. Other times I sit there and ask, “Are you positive this is what you’re doing right now?” Then I shake my head, acquiesce to their desires, and I put it on paper.
So if I talk to you about my characters like they are living, breathing people with heartbeats, addresses and drawers full of underwear, it’s because to me, they are. If I didn’t feel them in my heart and soul in this manner, how could I ever do them justice in writing their stories?
*Harmon would like you all to know that he’s somewhat better now, though still unhappy with where I’ve left him.