When You Let Your Characters Talk To You #writers #writerslife


I have recently discovered something magical. Brace yourselves readers.

I am going to be honest with you. For most of last year (and the year before) I nodded my head and agreed with you all when you spoke about your characters talking to you during the writing process. I was like ‘yes of course mine do that too! Β (cue blonde writer’s ‘telling a little white lie’ face).

Then one day, not so long ago, I was busy writing and something magical happened. I let my characters speak to me. They actually started to talk – gasp! Whilst they chatted away I wrote down whatever they said or did.

It was like I had climbed into the passenger seat and given them the controls. It really was a wonderful experience and quite powerful too.

After I found myself in a state of, what can only be described as,Β literary hysteria –Β I raced around the house shouting ‘the people in my head actually spoke to me!!!’ (Cue some odd looks from loved ones and a couple of phone calls to a medical helpline)

The secret was letting go. I allowed myself to relax and stopped trying to control everything on the page. This in turn led to my characters speaking to me.

Letting my characters speak to me whilst I wrote benefited me in a number of ways:

  • Every character started to have a distinctive voice in my head and this followed through onto the page. Until this turning point all my characters had one dull voice.
  • I was able to pick up on my characters individual mannerisims and behaviours, something which I have not done before.
  • I connected with my characters on a deeper level.
  • I became emotionally attached to my characters.
  • I allowed them to work their way out of problems. This is interesting as these fictional folk can do this if you let them.

I can now relate to Shirley Knight’s quote:

I just let the character speak to me and things appear – Shirley Knight

I can see the downsides of doing this:

  • Giving my characters too much control.
  • Finding it difficult to switch back to normal life once I have finished writing. Some of my characters think it’s ok to carry on talking once I have stopped writing – in particular my new handsome male vampire ones – sigh!
  • Loved ones give you some weird looks once you start on this road.

I will keep an eye on these whilst I enjoy my newfound skill.

Have your characters talked to you?

If so what has been your experience?

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I am a blonde writer of romantic comedy fiction.

103 thoughts on “When You Let Your Characters Talk To You #writers #writerslife

  1. It’s truly an amazing experience when they do speak. I’ve been there, I know. I’ve tried explaining to others, non-writers and I’m sure they also tell a white lie, pretending to get it. πŸ™‚ I now understand E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

  2. That is why I ‘pantz’ a little word Learned from winning NaNoWriMo 2014. You dont outline or plan you just write. Then the research revision and clearing up after the messiest party begins. This mad -cap way gives you living voices, and it works. Since then I have adapted to basic outline and research i plan the scene vaugely but add the behaviours and accents after they show themselves. Recently … my Character who is desolate for all to witness, hair tearing, lip trembling, snots the works! Because her child has been taken away. Tells me she called social services! Shoot the whole story back fires changes direction and I am running to catch up.
    ( this information is copy rite protected and cannot be used lent or duplicated in any way) Do I allow this? Do I draw her back in? Listening to characters brings them alive.

    1. I’m a pantser, too, but I research and revise as I write, which helps with those times when a character tells me, “No, you got it wrong.” I also write whatever I feel like writing (beginnings, middles or ends of scenes or chapters), not in chronological order. That helps keep everything fresh, for me.

      My work-in-progress is harder for me to do than my first novel was, because the new book is historical fiction, which means that there’s already a historical timeline into which I have to fit my characters. That’s as close as I’ll ever get to outlining (YUCK).

      (BTW, only the exact words you have written are under copyright protection. Ideas cannot be copyrighted.)

      1. I only put copy right bit in because there is a section of my actual book within my comment . Snap! Mine also has a chronological timeline and needs to be historically correct. It makes it a pig to revise and edit, definitely a tough cookie. πŸ˜‡

      2. Another thing to know is that titles can’t be copyrighted. We’d all like to have unique titles for our books, but although sometimes just the perfect set of words has already been used, we can still legally use it. (Saves a lot of frustration.)

  3. Yep often but usually in a subliminal way. Viz I start a chapter knowing A will do this and B will react thus and a few sentences in it is very clear that is not what needs to happen. Can be bloody irritating or bloody exciting depending on how the changes impact what you thoughthink might happen next. Lovely to hear this Lucy

    1. It can be hard to watch characters misbehave, or who tell me things I didn’t want to hear. I write a first draft of that scene, exactly the way the character acted or said it, and then I put my foot down, and say, “Okay, I know what happened. The ball is now in my court, and I’m going to make this fit for public consumption.” I don’t get much argument after that, although it may take me a while to get the offending passage into good shape.

  4. This is the way it’s always been for me: writing my first novel began with my inadvertent eavesdropping on a character conversation. It’s also one of the reasons why I don’t get writer’s block.

  5. It’s amazing when they talk, isn’t it? Like being at work and letting someone else do all the hard parts! Although my characters also tend to go mysteriously mute at times… The joys of writerly life.

  6. Mine don’t actually speak to me, but they do go rogue on me. Like when I threw a few magicians into Dance of the Goblins and the blighters took over! It’s always interesting to see what new directions they take the stories.

  7. Yes. My characters do talk to me, and quite loudly. (If I am tired or sick, they tell me I should be up writing, chop-chop!) Some of ’em appear full-blown in my head, and I haven’t a clue where they came from; one day, they’re not there, and the next, they are.

    I’m so glad I’m not the only writer who has this happen. Great post!

  8. It’s pure magic when your characters come alive… but it can also be dangerous! I was driving on the motorway one night when some characters of mine started chatting in my head and for half an hour I was actually oblivious of the real world. I only came back to earth when I was pulled over for speeding. The policeman said he’d been chasing me for half an hour! It’s lucky they can’t test for traces of fiction in your bloodstream. As it was I had to pay a hefty fine.

  9. Mine talk to me all the time. They change the story, add things, let me know who they’re interested in (or not) and are quite keen to get their stories told. They also let me know whenever I’m not quite on the right track. It’s magic indeed (and also why I’m definitely a Pantser!) πŸ™‚

  10. Oh, so you actually think you can go back to “normal” life? ha ha ha ha. It’s all over for you, Lucy. They aren’t going to stop talking once you enter their world. You’re going to fall in love (I’m not kidding) and you heart is going to break many times over for many different reasons. They’re going to make you laugh and cry. It is total magic and its an addiction. Enjoy!

    1. Fab comment – it does feel like – them banging and trying to get out lol! Thx for dropping by and I hope to see you again in these blonde parts of town – happy Thurs!

  11. I’d rather argue with the voices in my head than do anything else. It truly IS magic because they know what they’re doing until I disagree. I’ve been wrong lots of times. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€
    Fascinating post.

  12. It’s a blast when that happens! Congratulations! Its the moste exhilerating thing ive found about writing. My favorites was when the character who was supposed to be the overprotective, prim Victorian mom planted her feet and yelled at me because she was actually in British naval intelligence and refused (absolutely refused) and demanded to go all James Bond instead of going to the dress shops for a new gown. Of course, when they start telling you to do things…like bungie jumping off the Eiffel tower, remember to just say no. πŸ™‚

    1. Hey thx for this. It is amazing. You are right as up until this point I didn’t know my characters. This fed through into my writing; dull and flat characters. I am hoping this new skill will enrich my writing πŸ™‚

  13. What a wonderful experience; good for you for keeping that channel of communication open.

    Mine don’t speak to me as such (anymore), some do sneaky things; they wait until I’m writing then hijack the narrative; then there are those that just mope about waiting for me to do all the hard work.
    Since I’m writing Fantasy the latter group are easily dealt with….. ‘If you don’t shape up, you get unheroically or amusingly deceased-next chapter’ (These days a Fantasy novel needs a high body county)…The former group not so easy, they have far too much fun and won’t listen

    I wish you well with your future discourses with your characters

    1. Great comment! Thx – it has been a wonderful experience and its another thing to add my ‘grateful for being a writer’ list. Your characters sound great! Thx for reading and dropping by. Hope to see you again in these blonde parts of town πŸ™‚

  14. I haven’t had the experience of characters fully speaking to me. Little snippets here and there. No full-blown conversations. Letting go and letting characters take control is hard. I have to be actively thinking about what a character might say. But I guess that’s when I need to let my characters be.

  15. Do arguments count, because I experience those with my characters quite often. I really should be the star of this scene. No you shouldn’t. You are supposed to be unconscious here. Your assistant makes the discovery. That idiot? He can’t even discover a way to arrive on time. Now you are just being mean. No one is going to like you if you talk like that. They don’t have to like me, they just have to respect me. Ah, no, I think they have to like you if you hope to stick around for a sequel. Hmph. All the more reason to let me make the discovery. They won’t help but like me after that. I am changing the world! etc…sheesh.

    1. One time during the writing of my first novel, it was difficult for me to decide who should be the point-of-view character (there were two), because they both had interesting perspectives on the events of the scene. I wrote the scene both ways, and then I decided that as much as I liked knowing what was going on inside the second character, the first one really had to be the one to tell the story at that point. (Maybe I’ll use the information from the second character in a sequel.)

  16. My characters have always talked to me, sometimes too much. They live in my head, constantly, and even comment on such mundane things as “Will I salt the potatoes.” I love them being so close.

    1. You are so lucky. I think this is why I had dull and lifeless characters for months. I am now so pro character! Just wish those hot male characters would stop whispering me stuff….sigh!

  17. My flash characters interject all the time. “No, that’s not what happened.” or “I would NEVER do that.” I’m waiting for one of them to speak more than a few paragraphs so I can get my draft done. They have short attention spans, as do I apparently.
    Nice confession, btw. I hope your pants aren’t on fire.

  18. Some of my characters talk to me, and some don’t. The first two novels I wrote sort of wrote themselves. I just took dictation. My trilogy (which may end up just being one book spanning 3 or 4 generations via woven in backstory) is more stubborn. The person I thought was going to be the main character in the first book is playing hard-to-get. His son is easier to know, but the granddaughter is pretty much writing her own story. What I did: put that aside for now. I got back the rights to my first novel and am doing a re-write which I hope to have published by Amazon this fall. BTW, can anyone tell me the difference between self-publish and Indie publish? I’m an older lady who used to use a typewriter. I’m also slightly (maybe more than slightly) techno-challenged.

    1. Characters all have their own personalities, don’t they? Some are definitely harder for a writer to get along with.

      The differences between “self” and “Indie” publishing are fuzzy, but are mainly that with “Indie” publishing, the author is understood to have done it all, including typesetting and cover design (usually with only the aid of a print-on-demand printer, but with the possible exceptions of hiring somebody to proofread or edit, and to design cover art); whereas “self-published” books may have been produced by a Indie, or by hiring a vanity press to turn the manuscript into a finished product.

      I’m an “older lady,” too, although I was in on the early years of computer usage, when we had to write line code every time we wanted to put anything into or get anything out of the machine, and that was state-of-the-art equipment, which was used to process military intelligence. (I was working at NSA, and no, I don’t have to shoot you, now, because the statute of limitations has passed.) πŸ˜‰

      Congratulations on getting your rights back. Best wishes for a successful re-issue.

  19. It’s the MAGIC OF WRITING! My characters boss me around all the time. I mean, I could look at it that way if I want, but what’s really happening is I’m trusting them enough to tell the story that’s supposed to be told. It’s obvious in my writing when I’ve tried to force their hands: the writing is stilted and not fun to read. But when I let them take the reins and go wherever they want to go? Sure! I’m along for the ride, just lending them my fingers to get words onto the page.

    Wait until you start dreaming as them. That’s a kick.

  20. It is magical, but there is a dark side. Once your characters come alive it becomes a lot harder to listen to criticism of their doings, as from editors, beta readers or critiquers. It’s as though your close friends, or even worse — your children — are being attacked and you get all defensive. I guess that’s what “You have to kill your darlings” means. (Writing is a tough business).

  21. Yes my characters always talk to me and each other. I just run with it. They take me in directions I had not considered and they do this writing thing far better than I ever could. It is their story after all. 😊

  22. I agree. Characters speaking bring writing to life. Now if only I can mesh 1st person speaking with narration – and make it not seem like an alive.showing and boring/telling story happening at the same time …!

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