I’ve seen you (and other authors) talk about your characters like they talk to you, and I gotta ask – have you ever had conversations with them which aren’t about their stories? A couple of mine have started giving me a hand with… life in general, kinda, and I’m not sure whether I should be taking this in stride as my next step as an author, or getting concerned about my mental health.
I’d say the way you manage your own characters is your own business. Though there’s this to say: if the results of these conversations are proving positive for you, in terms of making it easier for you to deal effectively with the world and the people in it, then I’d be hard put to get too worried…as long as you’re very clear that those conversations aren’t with external beings in any way, shape or form. They’re just you having a conversation with yourself: though in a slightly different mode than usual. (A little more about this below.).
Around here I can tell you two things for sure:
(a) My characters don’t offer opinions on things outside of the stories where they’re positioned, or (more generally) things going on in what we laughably refer to as Real Life. In YW-universe parlance, this makes sense because my characters stand in a “less central” position to RL than I do: they’re as ill-equipped to pronounce on it as I would be to offer advice on handling life up in Tesseract Country, two or three physical dimensions up from the 3D one where I live. My characters (when I’m considering them as such) can have no sense of the larger context in which I operate. So if they started getting opinionated about how I was conducting real-life transactions, I would kick them the hell out of the conversation until they were willing to start comporting themselves more appropriately. I am running this show, not they.
(b) I’m absolutely clear that I’ve made my characters up out of occurrences in my experience and trends in my imagination. (I don’t believe in Muses, either. As a classicist I respect the Nine – the Trope Namers, if you will. But if I meet the [abstract] Muse in the road, I will – as one is adjured to do with the Buddha – kill her. I refuse to foist responsibility for my creative process – or agency in it – off on a construct liable to remove both.)
As a former psych professional I know that one technique that sometimes helps the introspective mind more effectively examine itself is to allow various separate internal ego states to “personify” themselves and “speak” to you. But at all times one has to remember that all these voices are you, talking to yourself, and doing so only because you allow it. (”Talking to yourself” is a concept which doesn’t bother me in the slightest: partly because writers do it all the time, sometimes out loud as well as internally, and it does no harm: and partly because I agree with Gandalf’s assessment that talking to oneself removes the necessity for long explanations to others who otherwise can’t get what you’re going on about. [But then again, Gandalf is just one aspect of Tolkien talking to himself…])
I’ll add this as ©, if only as a minor addendum not specifically germane to this discussion, but slightly affiliated: I also don’t allow my characters to plunge around the landscape of a storyline doing as they please, potentially trashing carefully thought-out narrative structures. Some writers see this kind of thing as some sort of expression of creative freedom, but to me it looks more like a lapse in discipline – or, once again, a desire not to have to take responsibility for one’s own creation.
…Anyway. If your characters seem to be giving you good life advice, well, fine! But keep an eye on this situation – because you wouldn’t want to be caught by surprise if it started to go toxic. And never lose sight of the essential truth that they are just you, cosplaying (as it were) a useful degree of otherness. You can cut them out of the transactional equation any time you like, as soon as you feel confident in taking your own advice without the presence of a middleman.
Hope this helps. 🙂
(Originally published at Tumblr: http://dduane.tumblr.com/post/133787749256/ive-seen-you-and-other-authors-talk-about-your )