Listening to the Voices
in my Head
By Carol Hightshoe
"I live in my own little world -- but it's
okay; they know me there."
How many times have you, as an author, felt
like the above statement accurately described your writing? The problem
usually isn't that our characters don't know us; it more commonly is that we
don't know them. Despite all the character sketches and interviews we do
with our characters, we still don't really know them that well.
Too many times we try to get them to do the
things we want them to do in a story in a certain way so we can get to the
ending we think the story should have. Characters who are forced into
certain actions will come across as cardboard and one-dimensional to the
reader. Our characters, even the secondary ones, need to live and breathe;
they must be a part of the world, not just a plot device.
The question: how do you, as the author,
bring these characters to life? Start by listening to the voices in your
head. Review all the information you generated about a character with your
initial sketch and interviews, then try to become that character. In your
day-to-day activities, ask your characters for their opinions on things that
come up. You don't have to follow their advice, but asking will give you
more insight into their personalities and motivations.
Once you have gotten used to asking your
characters for advice, you should find yourself more able to ask them what
they want to do while you're writing. Characters who act like real,
living breathing people come across as real people; they respond in ways
that are natural to them, not necessarily the way that works best for your
If you want your characters to be real, you
have to think of them as real. You have to believe they do exist in the
world you are creating with your words. Allow them to interact with their
world and the other people they meet there just as they would in the "real"
You will find that once you begin to think
of your worlds as places that do exist -- places you are allowed to visit,
where you can meet the people whose stories you are telling -- those people
will begin to tell you their stories and you will become a transcriptionist.
There will be times when you are working on a scene, one you thought would
turn out a certain way, and you find the characters have other ideas of
their own. When this happens, you should let the characters take control of
the story; after all it is their story. Focus on letting them talk through
you. Don't allow yourself to get sidetracked from what they are saying or
doing. You can go back and add the extra details later to more completely
flesh out the scene.
When you're done with the story, you will
find that you and the characters have arrived at the place you expected all
along -- whether they told you immediately or not, you did know how the
story was going to end. It was the journey that wasn't completely known.
Let your characters make their
journey, not yours, and you and your reader will find yourselves welcome
guests in a world that draws you in because it is real. You and your reader
will cry at the tragedies your characters deal with and cheer at their
However, before any of this can happen you
have to be willing to accept your characters as people with real emotions,
real problems, and real flaws. Only if you believe in them can they ever
rise above being words on paper. Remember, you have to really listen to the
voices in your head; they want you to believe in them enough to breathe life
into them and their world so your reader can believe in them also.