Talking to Your Characters–a Study Proves It

Majority of authors ‘hear’ their characters speak, finds study

Don’t usually do writing tips here–they usually come on the Views blog. But it’s been busy over there, so a change up. Just finished reading this interesting article in The Guardian. It confirms advice from writers to others:

Listen to your characters. Talk to them. 

Not sure how well I’ve been following that advice. I often do wind up having unfortunately extended dialogues at 4 am. Too bad it’s more often with those I want to call and engage on some semi-important matter having nothing to do with stories. “Oh, if only I’d said this.” Or more to the point getting the put down words just so.

Anyway, here’s a few snippets from the article. If you’re a writer, you’ll want to read it.

Researchers at Durham University teamed up with the Guardian and the Edinburgh international book festival to survey 181 authors appearing at the 2014 and 2018 festivals. Sixty-three per cent said they heard their characters speak while writing, with 61% reporting characters were capable of acting independently.

“I hear them in my mind. They have distinct voice patterns and tones, and I can make them carry on conversations with each other in which I can always tell who is ‘talking’,” said one anonymous writer. “They sometimes tell me that what I have in mind for them isn’t right – that they would never behave or speak that way. I don’t usually answer back,” said another.

What about you? Do you hear conversations with your characters? Maybe I do, while I’m writing dialogue. I must confess I do annoy my wife at times when I come up with the next line of a TV show or movie we’re watching (only at home of course–never on those rare occasions we were at theaters before COVID-19 closed them).

I probably do run what comes next in a story through my mind as Joe or Sally is about to speak. More so when I’m editing. But after reading this article, I must be missing out on a lot. One more snippet for you.

The bestselling crime novelist Val McDermid recognised the phenomenon, but explained that she is able to exert a measure of control. “They don’t just pop up out of nowhere,” she said. “But when I’m working on a novel, I have conversations in my head with them. When I’m out for a walk, there are all sorts of interrogations going on in my head and sometimes out loud. But if I’m not working with a character, silence.”

If you are in the majority of writers who do this, be assured–you’re fine. The report on the Guardian notes that the researchers didn’t find that any of those interviewed had any problem with mixing fiction with the real world.

After I post this, I’m printing the article and keeping it handy on my computer desk whenever I’m working no a story.

6 thoughts on “Talking to Your Characters–a Study Proves It

  1. This is a thought-provoking topic, John. I laughed at your reference to coming up with the next line when you’re watching a TV show as I do that, too, much to my wife’s annoyance. She enjoys shows like The Bachelor (perhaps she’s looking for a new model😎). I’ve never watched more than two minutes of any episode, but I do enjoy walking into the room to utter what I imagine will come out of one of their mouths.

    As far as dialogue, I picture it in my head, but I do feel there is value in saying it aloud. Sometimes I’ll realize a line sounds unnatural or stilted after I say it out loud.

    1. Ah yes, saying it loud does help. Only rarely have I tried having the computer read it back. Have to get over the disconcerting voice. Might get used to it.

  2. My characters talk and I hear them. They never talk to me though. If I’m not writing them correctly, they just stop cooperating until I figure out what’s wrong. Passive-aggressive! Interesting topic. 🙂

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