Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Listening to the Voices in my Head

By Carol Hightshoe
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 story.

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" world.

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 victories.

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.