Monday, December 27, 2010

Hearing voices

This is my first post on Supernatural Underground, due mainly to sloth on my part and a paralyzing fear of saying something stupid on the Internet. (Which, I realize, is what the Internet is for, but bear with me here.) But, faced with the choice between posting and digging out from under the metric crapton of snow that has fallen on Boston, I'm finally posting.

So of course, I'm going to talk about something not-quite-normal: hearing voices.

Some characters appear because I need someone in that place in the plot, and they rapidly become more than a placeholder. Some characters come out of blending ideas together -- wouldn't it be cool if someone like X did Y -- or out of the shuffle-and-change-partners dance that makes up the first few stages of revision for me.

And some characters -- particularly Evie, the protagonist of Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt, and Soul Hunt -- are immediately present when I need them, speaking just over my shoulder. Evie was really the spark that drove these stories: I had some ideas of what mythology to play with, how I wanted to fiddle with certain ideas, and it was as if she stepped out of the back of my head, arms crossed, head tilted to the side as if to say Yeah, that'll work, so what's going to hit us next? And let's wrap this up soon; there's a Sox game tonight.

I don't know how many other authors have this experience, of hearing a character's voice so strongly that it's as if the character is relating the story and I'm only writing it down. Granted, this changes as the story changes, but her voice remains constant. Even when I hit difficult patches, places where I had to reconfigure the whole plot so that it wouldn't fall over in the slightest breeze, writing those sections wasn't the hard part. (That would be revising.) So long as I had Evie's voice in mind, her reaction to the situation and her narration, I could compose without too much trouble.

For a long time I thought this was because Evie's story is told in first person. Another character from my short stories, Charles the valet, has a similarly present voice for me (sometimes to my detriment; it's very easy to rattle off a page or so in his voice and then realize I forgot to add the important information in that scene), and since he's a first-person narrator, I thought that might be the reason. But there are other characters whose voice was absolutely clear, even as I was writing them from another's perspective. Boru, from Spiral Hunt, was very clear in my head, which was a disquieting experience to say the least. Another character stepped forward just as I needed her: Venetia Brooks-Parsons, who appears in Soul Hunt, made her presence known as I reached that point in the story and automatically commandeered that chapter. While I doubt anything short of a bulldozer could have kept Venetia in the background for any amount of time, it was still a little startling to have her speaking so clearly through the story.

So it's not simply a matter of perspective. I think some of it has to do with what characters push our buttons, which ones are loved, which ones come out of the depths of our subconscious with a story to tell. And I suspect that's why I've enjoyed writing Evie's stories so far.

I'd be curious to know if other writers have the same experience, and if there's some common thread between the characters that speak in our heads. I think I've had other authors' characters colonize my head as well -- do other readers have this reaction too? Who's speaking up in your mind, and whose voices do you hear?

(And for the record, I was very tempted to title this post "Do You Hear What I Hear," but I suspect it would have gotten me a stern talking-to. Holiday puns can only go so far in our household.)


Patricia JL said...

I don't think you're alone at all. I've seen lots of published authors talk about their characters like they are real people, saying the character told them this or that. I do it too. Hell, I have conversations w/ my characters. It's part of what makes them so believable and real. They are real to you and that makes them real to the reader. We just gotta put up w/ people looking at us funny we say "Well, my character so-and-so told me yesterday." ^^

Sharon S. said...

I think the Christmas pun would have been received well here .
I don't write, but when I am reading a series, I hear the characters in my head after I put the book down sometimes and I *like it! . The fun of reading is being able to put yourself into the characters and *feel/live it. That is what keeps me coming back to my favorite authors.

welcome! I think we are calling ourselves Undies ;)

Book Chatter Cath said...

I'm not a writer but I have very realistic dreams that often follow me around for days, sometimes to the point that i can almost believe them to be real (probably just a little crazy!!!)