January 5th, 2007
How real are my characters to me?

This is in response to Characters & the Writer over at Smart Bitches love Trashy Novels (I adore those women). I was also recently asked a question along these same lines by a reader, so I decided to blog about it.

How real are my characters in my mind? Do I get so involved with them that the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur and I start to think of them as real people, want to invite them out for coffee? I have to say that I don’t go that far. Although I definitely do develop an emotional attachment to them because when I’m writing a book I’m in their heads 24-7. Even when I’m not writing their stories, I’m thinking about their stories. I mean, really, I probably spend more time with my characters than I do my husband or my friends.

When a book comes to a close and I have to leave these characters that I spent every day with for months on end, I cling to them for a while. It’s a little like grieving, I guess. I don’t think it’s an uncommon phenomenon for writers. After all, we’ve created these characters, set their little fictional hearts to beating. We’ve put them through trials and tribulations and all these (literally) character-building experiences. We’ve, even unwittingly, imbued parts of ourselves in them, little snippets from our subconscious minds. Of course we’re going to get attached to them a little.

So, I can draw the line between fantasy and reality and I know my characters aren’t real. I can’t invite them out for coffee, even though that would be really cool! Maybe in an alternate universe…. However, I do become emotionally invested in them as their stories play out. I do fall in love with them a little.

And when I write “the end” on a book, I do mourn their absence in my life for a time. So much so that it takes me a while to start a new book, in fact. Maybe somewhere deep inside I feel I’m being unfaithful or something.

There is a point when I’m writing that the characters do take over the story and drive the events. The plot is moved forward by the sheer force of their personalities, as a result of the decisions they would make because they think a certain way or would act a certain way. When that happens, it’s freakishly like I’m on auto-pilot, subject to the whims of the characters I’ve created. But I know when that happens, it’s a good thing because it means I’ve created (hopefully) characters strong enough to carry the story and (hopefully) win the hearts and minds of the readers.

So, really, when the characters become real enough to hijack the story…that’s a good thing. A little bit crazy, maybe, but a good thing. 🙂

And, you know, us writers kind of make a career out of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, don’t we?

2 comments to “How real are my characters to me?”

  1. I’m much the same way as a writer…even when I’m not writing my characters continue to talk in my head, moving the story forward to the point I either have to jot something down or go and write the scene. I get both excited and a bit sad when a book is nearing THE END. 🙂

  2. (late response)

    This is the same for me — I do miss them after I’ve written the book, and it does take me a little time to move on to the next characters (but then they’re fully in my head after a little while).

    Then I do dumb things like look at the desktop collage I made for them, and I get sad. I can’t help it, because I do know they aren’t real, but they are fully developed and real characters for me for at least six months, living constantly in my head. I know my characters better than I know my neighbors. So I guess I’m allowed a little bit of silliness.