They’re Not Real

I’m going to tread into what might be dangerous territory here, but I’ve been emboldened by Maureen Johnson.  She’s been blogging throughout Nanowrimo, taking questions, and dispensing wisdom about various writing related topics.

I’ve seen this before.  The writer who talks about their characters as real people.  Who personifies them outside of the novel.  Who says that the characters insist on doing certain things, going certain directions, not following instructions.  When I’m at a convention, I make note of panelists who are doing this.  I have not, to this point, avoided a panel because of this type of talk, but I have used it as a tiebreaker between two equally intriguing panels (often necessary, as the best panels of the day are inevitable opposite each other).

I know that, when cornered, any writer who talks this way will, as the questioner in the Auntie MJ post, readily admit that their characters are fictional.  Well, there might be a small minority out there who are having legitimate problems with the lines between reality and fiction, but that’s not a subject for now…or ever in this blog.

I fully recognize the moment in the writing process these writers are talking about.  I appreciate that moment.  I love that moment.  It’s the moment where the story starts to flow so organically that each sentence, each paragraph, each word becomes something you aren’t thinking about.  They’re just something you know.  Something that is flowing forth and becoming effortless prose.  I’ve been there very few times, but the times that I am have been some of the better writing experiences of my life.

During that moment it’s easy to think of the book as an organic thing, a life force using the writer as a conduit for existing.  But those moments pass.  And in the end, it’s just the writer, and I think it’s selling him or herself short to deflect the inspiration, deflect the achievements off onto some other force.  That was all you writing.  Take a bow, pat yourself on the back, and then get back to the process.

Because, ya know, even among some fellow writers you’re going to encounter eye rolls when you talk about your characters like they’re real people.  When talking to non-writers, it’s the kind of behavior that is right up there with conspicuously writing in a Starbucks (future post: why I sometimes write in Starbucks, even having just said that).

That’s it, really.  That’s all I wanted to say.  Rant over.  Feel free to now tell me how I’m wrong, or how I’ve disrespected your writing style.

  1. avatar

    #1 by Day Al-Mohamed on December 2, 2011 - 6:22 pm

    *raises hand* Yup. That’s me, the eye-roller, right here.

    • avatar

      #2 by DLThurston on December 6, 2011 - 12:04 pm

      It’s great to know I’m not alone in the feeling. I’ve seen so many people talk about their books/characters that way, and so few people say “uh…can we stop pretending these are real now” that I wasn’t sure if it was just the four of us sitting at that table at Dogfish Head.

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