Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Talking to people who can't hear you

No, not even sign language will help get your point across to characters, whether they be on film, on television, or in a book. The closest I've come to actual communication is dealing with the characters I write. I mean, they sprouted from my own head, you'd think I'd be able to make them listen to what I have to say. More on that in a minute though. First, a funny anecdote or two.

Helper Monkey and I love watching crime shows on TV. His biggest frustration with me (which I'm sure I've blogged about in the past) is Writer Brain Syndrome, in which I've figured out the bad guy and his motive long before the end of the show, and then spend the next 30 minutes mumbling, "Nope, it's not that guy," or, "You're on the right track, now just ask him about..."

In return, he sometimes likes to talk back to the characters, too. This morning, while watching an episode of Bones, he made his usual comments to Temperance. "Oh, please. Stop being so deliberately obtuse." I think he's convinced everyone else on the show has the patience of Job to deal with someone who takes everything literally.

One of our favorite past times (which we're engaging in while I write this post) is heckling the Amazing Race. It's so easy to judge when we're sitting comfortably on the couch with our feet up. But still, it's a great way to feel like a real genius. YOU DING DONG! YOU KEEP MISSING THE OSTRICH! (thanks for pointing it out for the viewers, making it look completely obvious, and accenting their failure by playing the menacing "ZHIIIIIING" sound effect, camera dude!) LOOK TO YOUR RIGHT! Bah.

Lately, I've been catching myself doing these same things while writing, as if the characters I made up inside my brain and continue to create moment by moment as I type weren't actually under my control. I'm now convinced that writers suffer from a mild form of dissociative disorder. There is a cast of thousands inside my head, but they're not aware of each other until I filter them through the keyboard and onto the page. They don't talk to each other, or to me for that matter. Their story unfolds in real time through my fingers, but since they're all coming from a real (imaginary) place inside my head, and I still can't talk to them directly, they let me know what they want as I write. Their personalities grow in ways that often surprise me.

I thought I knew everything about my main character, at least all the important details. I'm writing a prequel to the trilogy of novels I've already written, so I thought I knew her and her history. Well, SURPRISE, MOTHERFATHER! Turns out, she had something major going on with this other guy who was only supposed to be a plot device. Once I started writing him, simply as a way to carry the story forward, I realized he had a lot more going on than I wanted or needed him to.

I intended to make him irrelevant by chapter 3, a footnote in her history. Then I intended to kill him off in chapter 9. Bastard lived. All of a sudden, I can't tell this guy anything anymore. He's damned pushy. But you know what? He's right. And he's perfect for the job. Not only this job, of pushing my MC forward, of shaping her into the character I love from her later life, but he's a fighter. He won't go away, so I've had to work out a deal with him. He knows when he's going to have to bow out of the series, but he's going to enjoy his time in the spotlight.

Do y'all talk to your characters? Or the tv? Please tell me I'm not alone. Well, alone aside from all the imaginary people living in my head.

13 comments:

  1. Yes. I do. And I laugh at their antics. :D

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  2. I do the same. Way too often, in fact. And when I write, I love to see where the characters are going to go. I like Alice Walker's statement that writers are part medium. That's more how it feels for me.

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    1. That's exactly it! Like I'm channeling all the characters, and they're using my hands to get out and become real. Perfect!

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  3. My characters don't speak to me. But they do manage to make themselves a bigger part of the story than I ever intended. And I speak dialogue out loud so I can hear how it sounds. It's important to do this in the basement before anyone else is awake. Otherwise, my kids would never let me hear the end of it.

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    1. Phooey. I sit in the living room and read dialogue out loud. The family would worry if I ever stopped talking. :D

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  4. My characters speak to me too! I always think I know them then POOF something knew comes along. It keeps me on my toes. You are not a lone! I yell at the TV too. :D

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    1. :D Just last night I was surprised again by a character I was convinced would be a bad guy I'd have to kill off immediately. Turns out, he was just a long lost friend of the MC's parents, come to warn them about the threat against them, give some awesome insight into the MC's mother, and offer his help. Weird! Like two paragraphs before that, I was all set to burn him with fire. Literally!

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  5. I totally do - and usually it's me saying to them, "OMG you're totally right!" One of my characters revealed something about himself that I had always suspected, but didn't know for sure about him, and then he suddenly confirmed it in a conversation late in the story. And no, I say to my husband, I DID NOT put the words in the character's mouth - the character TOLD ME.

    Those characters are totally smarter than we are.

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    1. Agreed! The characters are smarter than we are! That's my new mantra, for the next time I try to force them to do something they think is stupid. :D

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  6. Good for your secondary character, outliving his expiration date and propelling your MC forward. You can never know everything about someone, even one of your own creations.

    I never talk to my own characters, but I speak to all sorts of unresponsive folks: TV and film characters, my son's toys, and inanimate objects such as chairs or luncheon meats.

    And of course, cats.

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    1. Thanks! And I talk to most of the things on your unresponsive list, except maybe for lunch meat. I try not to develop relationships with things I intend to eat.

      Oh, and cats. Sometimes it even looks like they're paying attention, even though I know they don't really care what I have to say. Unless I say "treat." Then they care.

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  7. I talk to characters all the time! The worst is when I talk to my own characters...you know, the ones in my head! Hubs always gets mad at me when we watch crime shows or horror movies. I'm the same way, screaming at the characters, when I've solved the mystery. :)

    Love this post! Also, tagged you for a Liebster Award at http://www.tinamoss.com/2013/04/sharing-is-caring-liebster-award.html Hope you'll join in the fun.

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