Confession of an Analytical Writer

— July 27, 2011 (11 comments)

My characters don't talk to me.

They don't talk to me. I don't feel like they're my friends or someone I know in real life. I don't spend time with them, and they don't bug me with their story until I write it.

There, I said it.

I know a lot of you writers are the opposite. A character starts talking to you, tells you their story, and you feel compelled to write it. And I'm really, really sorry, but that's never how it worked out for me.

I usually get a world first, one that's in danger somehow. And then I have to think of an epic plot to save it. The characters come later as I ask questions like: Who lives in this world? Who has the abilities to save it but is least likely to do so? Who are their friends? Their enemies?

Even once I find the characters, they don't tell me their story. If they ever did, it would be like, "I read books and don't do anything interesting." Or "I'm a ninja and go on missions and stuff." Or even "I start fires with my mind, but only when nobody's looking. I'm just trying to stay out of trouble."

They don't talk to me, but if they did, this is what they would say. Because my characters wouldn't want to get involved in the story I put them in. That's the whole point (and maybe one of my themes): my characters don't want to save the world, which is exactly why I choose them.

And they don't tell me their story. I tell it to them.

My characters never break the fourth wall. They do whatever I need them to do. The guy who used to work in a bookstore? Now he works on his father's shipyard (and only wishes he worked in a bookstore), because there's more conflict that way. The ninja who was framed for killing his clan leader? Maybe he really did kill him -- or was about to -- because that makes later plot points that much more dramatic.

They don't complain. They just...change.

Sometimes I wish they spoke to me, because then I'd know I was starting with a strong voice and a deep character. Instead, I have to decide what I want their voice to be and what their goals are. And I have to decide if that fits the story I put them in.

I know there's no wrong process, but when other authors talk about these characters that won't leave them alone, sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it right. So I had to confess: I'm not like most writers. I don't write novels in some kind of inspired dream state. I solve them like a computer program or a Rubik's Cube.

And for some reason, it works, too.

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  1. I AM SO GLAD YOU WROTE THIS. *sigh* I have felt so weird in the way that my characters...don't talk to me. Pardon the analogy, but for me it's like playing with barbies. I create situations, and then figure out which character is going to react in the most interesting way. Once I get going, I will see scenes play out in my mind, but it's totally based on the set up that I've created in the first place. I've never had a character show up, kick their shoes off and curl up in the sweet spot of my couch to tell me a story. I think that is incredibly cool for the folks who have that ability. I'm just not blessed with that particular super power.

  2. Awesome! And there's no RIGHT WAY to write - which bugs the crap out of my Logic Brain, but my Creative Brain eats up with a spoon.

    I usually start with a world or a conflict too, then figure out WHO that would happen to. Just yesterday I was wrestling with changing a character, to make sure she fit with the actions she takes in the story. Because who she is determines what she does and what she does determines who she is.

    She never told me a thing. :)

  3. My characters don't speak to me either. I don't see characters chasing me around like some M. Night Shyamalan film.

    I often start with a location or an idea that intrigues me and build characters to fit. Or maybe it's a matter of what would people logically do in this situation/place.

    I will admit that sometimes scenes keep me awake at night, but that's usually because I should just get up and jot them down...but "if I go to sleep now, I'll get 4 hours, three minutes, and twenty seconds of rest!"

  4. I enjoyed this post because I'm your exact opposite. I love learning about how different it is for different writers.

    And there certainly is no 'right' way.

  5. I'm pretty goal is to keep my MC from crying too much (though I put her through 10 sorts of physical and emotional hell)

  6. I've read your work. You're doing it right.

  7. YES! Thank you. I've read about many writers who say their characters walk into their heads and start dictating their stories, and I've never had that happen to me either. Thanks for sharing your writing process. And wow, Jodi Meadows says you're doing it right! *dies of envy* :P

  8. I might be something of a Dungeon Master. I spend all kinds of time setting up the situation, the characters, the conflict, and all the other stuff that goes into getting Chapter One just right. And then, eventually, my characters (players) do pitch in and help me write the story. They can surprise me. But probably not to the extent that the "OMG they're leaping off the page and I am possessed!" crowd might lead one to believe.

  9. I knew I couldn't be the only one, but it's awesome to have proof. I'm glad I wrote this too :-)

    Jodi, you are my lighthouse amidst a sea of rejection. Thank you.

    Linda, I don't want to be the cause of envy, but yeah, every once in a while I get ridiculously lucky with online friends.

  10. If your process works, it's right for you. Doesn't make others wrong, doesn't make you king. Just keep what works, working for you.

    Your's is a process, which all writing is any way. Random can be troublesome, orderly bothers others. If you're moving forward, or backwards if you want with your method, stick with it. No need to apologize or explain.

  11. THANK YOU for posting this. My characters don't really talk to me either! It's more like I keep imagining what SHE would do in this situation, or ideas keep running through my head and I feel I have to write them down before I forget.

    (Sorry I'm so late reading this post - I'm trying to catch up on my blog reading!)