Imagination is a writer’s single greatest attribute. Through our imagination, we see the world and everyone in it with arresting clarity. Our dreams take on a vibrancy that can often overwhelm even our senses.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lain up at night, unable to close my eyes because the images bombarding me were just too vivid.
But the best (or worst) is when I hear them (the characters wandering through my head) talking. And not even to me, directly, but to each other. Like I’ve walked into a room and intruded on a conversation that continues to go on around me, because they’re just too damn rude to say, “Oh. Hey, Fallon, how’s it going?” LOL. Kidding.
So, I find myself like a scientist in the room, listening and ‘observing’, filing away notes and snippets of what I hear to input into my writing for either an existing project or something completely brand new.
A large portion of what I write happens this way. And often times, it happens to me in the most inopportune moments, like sitting on the train, walking home, washing my hair (and have no hope in hell of getting my hands on my phone to jot anything down).
I can’t tell you when this actually started, that’s how far back it goes. And for a long time I wondered if perhaps I was just a wee bit nuts, until I spoke to other writers and realized this is a trait we all share. (Phew!)
Overtime, I realized just how important this skill, and yes I now consider it a skill, is to the creation of a story.
Listening to your characters is the best way to discover who they are, in a three dimensional sense. It allows you to get a feel for their voice (the way they speak, the words they draw upon…just their general cadence that makes them…unique) because a characters voice has to be about as individual as their fingerprint. You have to be able to read through the dialogue and pinpoint who is who with or without a speech tag to state what should be obvious.
But more than the sound of their voice you need to listen to what it is they are telling you. Their wants and needs, their hopes and fears. What drives and motivates them? Often times, when you speak to writers, they will tell you that the characters take over. I remember once I entered into a scene with a particular road map I’d planned to follow, and as the scene progressed this guy just…took over and did exactly as he wanted to.
When the scene was complete, I sat back and just sort of stared at what was written on the screen, shocked. Because though my fingers had typed the words, the words themselves hadn’t come from ‘me’ but the character in question. And that is how you know you’re on the right track.
Because while the story is yours, the words should come from them if its to be honest.
To quote the wise F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Writers aren’t exactly people…they’re a whole lot of people trying desperately to become one person.”
The bottom line, if you hear voices, like me, explaining who they are or having full fledged conversations like you’re not even present, then you’re probably a writer.
So, embrace the madness. And the gift.