I’d worry if they talked back.

Today I’m in the Author Spotlight at Jessica Freely’s blog Friskbiskit, talking about the male/male relationship aspects of The Moonlight Mistress, among other things.


And for today’s pondering:

How do we visualize (mentalize?) characterization? I’ve heard people say things like, “My characters refused to do that,” or “they said they wanted to do this instead.”

So, for those of you who use that kind of language about your writing, do you really feel like you have a separate, imaginary person in your head speaking? Or is it just shorthand, a way of conceptualizing subconscious decisions? Or does it feel like they’re speaking even though you know it’s all you? Or something entirely different?

I talk about my characters often as if they’re real people, and think about them that way, though I don’t expect to meet them or anything. They are real, in the sense that art is real. But I don’t understand how they could do what I don’t want them to do. If I’m having trouble with a scene, I try to stop thinking about it, and my subconscious chews it over and spits out more ideas, and I decide which one I like. If the idea doesn’t work once it’s written out in prose, I try something else, but I still feel I am the actor, I am making the choices. Maybe it’s just me, and I can’t free my mind to the extent that makes the characters take on their own life. Or maybe my conceptualization techniques are simply different.

I’d be really interested to hear thoughts on this.

Related Posts:
Learning Who Your Characters Are.
Caring About Your Characters – Or Not.
Kinesics in Fiction.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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15 Responses to I’d worry if they talked back.

  1. Fae says:

    I really can't answer this without sounding completely nuts lol.

    I don't think they're real in my head, but yeah, I hear them. Not like actual voices, more of an impression of them, where I get images, snapshots of scenes, opening lines, bits of dialogue and emotions, thoughts etc that pop into my head unbidden.

    Of course they're not 'real' people or actual sentient beings, but they do take on a life of their own, in my experience, and I've learned to just go with it and listen. I consider myself more the director than the actor. I guide, I offer direction, I provide the script, but it's up to them to bring it to life and often adapt it to make it even better than my original vision.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    I am totally jealous, Fae. I am also jealous of people who mentally see the story unroll like a movie.

  3. bettie says:

    My characters don't talk to me because they don't believe I exist. The feeling is mutual.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I've heard people explain it both ways Victoria. The way you do it and the way Fae does it. I think everyone conceptualizes it differently and that's how it works for them.

    I've had characters balk at doing something many times. Sometimes it's just been because it's a difficult, emotional scene and I can't blame them for balking, but I make them do it anyway. Other times it's because I swear the characters (my subconscious) know's something I don't and when I let them have their way a plot snag is fixed.

    My characters also like to surprise me. In the last book I wrote, I never expected Jacob to propose when he did. Hell, I don't even think I was considering marriage at all for those characters. But he did it and it worked really well.

    Sometimes they know better. Sometimes they just like to bitch, lol.

    Marguerite Labbe

  5. Victoria Janssen says:

    LOL, Bettie!

    Other times it's because I swear the characters (my subconscious) know something I don't

    I definitely trust my backbrain more than my frontbrain in many things.

  6. Cherrie says:

    I like Fae's director analogy; I see them, I see the setting, I hear what they're saying to each other. They never talk directly to me. Sometimes I yell "Cut!" and change things up and give them different lines. :)

    Usually, I don't know my characters that well until I start writing their story. I have a sense of who they are, but they take on a life of their own as I write. And sometimes they turn out to be different than what I had in mind at the start, but it works for the most part.

  7. Victoria Janssen says:

    I have a sense of who they are, but they take on a life of their own as I write.

    That happens with me, as well.

  8. Yvette Davis says:

    I'm skeert of people that tell me to talk to my characters. I was a psych major. They have pages in the DSMV about that kind of stuff. Eesh!

  9. Victoria Janssen says:

    Yvette, LOL!

    Maybe they need a special section just for writers. We talk to people who aren't there, we lie for a living, we live in tiny attics….

  10. Jeannie Lin says:

    Jeannie gives her characters the "eye":
    "Hey, I hear that other writers' characters talk to them. They also decide to do interesting things. What have you done for me lately?"


    I tried it. :)

    I'm like you Victoria. I need a lot of ruminating and daydreaming and ultimately writing to discover my characters. I do visualize scenes in my head over and over. The ones that stick make it into the manuscript. There's a lot on the mental cutting room floor.

  11. Ella Drake says:

    I'm with you and Jeannie. My characters don't talk to me. I ruminate, daydream, shower.
    The characters are there, they're real when I'm in a bit of a writing cloud, but I can make them go in any direction I think works.

  12. Moriah Jovan says:

    Being schizophrenic is part of the job description.

    I'm one of those people for whom it rolls out like a fully edited movie, with props and soundtrack and costumes and sets and dialogue.

    Mostly my characters talk to each other and for the most part, they don't know I exist. However (repeating from elsewhere), once I wrote an a**hole scene for a character I thought was a bit more of an a**hole than he was, and I distinctly remember him saying to ME: "Please don't make me do that." It's really the first and only time my imaginary friends have acknowledged me.

  13. Victoria Janssen says:

    Jeannie and Ella, we should all go visit MoJo's head…it sounds pretty entertaining in there.

  14. Moriah Jovan says:

    I would invite you all in, but it's already pretty crowded!

  15. Victoria Janssen says:

    *elbows characters aside*

Comments are closed.