by Davyne DeSye
My family thinks I’m nuts – the benign, harmless kind of nuts – because I hear voices in my head. It came to the fore one time when I was writing, madly banging away at the keyboard, when one of them interrupted me with mundane household question. I don’t recall the question. My response was, “Hush, hush, give me a minute. They’re talking and if I don’t get it all down, I’ll miss it. They won’t just come back later and say it all again for me.”
And then I was back to it, and it wasn’t long before I had managed to “transcribe” the conversation.
Yes, if you have developed a character well enough in your head, if you know what motivates them, they’ll do all the work for you.
This is true whether you are the kind of writer who starts writing a story with nothing more than an intriguing first line or idea, or whether you are of the plot/outlining ilk. If you have developed a character that will truly stand out from the page, he or she will do all the work. You won’t have to wonder what they will say, or how they will react under certain stimuli, or why they seem to misunderstand a situation. They tell you. They do it. You just have to get it down.
Thomas Harris described much the same process in his “Forward to a Fatal Interview” which appeared in a reprinting of his novel, Red Dragon. In that forward he explains how he first “met” his character, Hannibal Lecter.
The question then becomes how best or how most easily to develop your character to the point where they are bearing the load. One of my favorite tools for this is to “interview” the character – to ask questions about the character that will help you to understand who they are. Most of the information you garner will not make it into the story, but will help you transfer the workload from your shoulders to theirs. Of course, you have to ask questions like: What is your name? Age? Sex? Are you tall or short, brunette or bald, thin or fat? Do you walk with a limp? (Why?) But you can also ask more interesting questions, like: What was the happiest moment in your life? The worst? What fears wake you up at night (or do you always sleep peacefully)? What do you keep in your refrigerator? What do you use for transportation? What do you do with your hands when you are thinking/nervous/happy? What trinket (or piece of furniture, or tool) do you keep because it means something to you? What are your hobbies or phobias? What good or bad habits do you have?
When you interview your characters, be an investigative reporter – follow the leads your character gives you. You wouldn’t ask the same questions of a Hollywood star that you’d ask of an old woman living on scraps in an abandoned building. The character (and the story) will dictate some of the questions, or even the number of questions.
Once you’ve finished your interview, you’ll find that you are more interested in your character, that your character is richer than you initially imagined. You’ll find you can hear their voice in your head. When you set them loose, even within the framework you’ve constructed for them, you’ll notice that they do all the walking, thinking, jumping… and talking for you.
Trust the voices.
Davyne (pronounced "DAH-vee-ANN") DeSye was born to foreign royalty and spent her youth traveling among various countries assisting in her parents' efforts to acquire and refurbish old world castles. Davyne left her parents and their lives forever upon learning that she was born an orphan and was merely the subject of a nurture vs. nature experiment. She still loves to travel, although she tends to avoid visiting castles.
She now lives in Colorado with her husband and five children.
(Or at least that's the story this month...)
Davyne's stories have been published in, or will soon be appearing in Tomorrow, Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra eMag, MindFlights, Tales of the Talisman, Foliate Oak, and Nth Degree.
To learn more about Davyne, please visit her website.