Sometimes I wonder if the only difference between an author’s mind and someone with multiple personalities is awareness.
Of course, this won’t apply to all authors. There seem to be as many ways of writing as there are people who write, but I know at least a few others who have the same sort of relationship to characters as I do.
Yeah, I said “relationship,” and that really is the best description I can find, for my characters seem to occupy a niche in my mind, something that separates them from me and allows me to mentally engage with them.
For instance, I can enjoy a piece of music, and I am the one who is enjoying it. But sometimes I will sense a reaction to the music that I associate, not with myself, but with one of my characters. They stir, sometimes they even “claim” something, and forever after I will associate that thing with that character.
One example is that I cannot read or watch any form of vampire-related story without the running commentary of one of my particularly reactive characters. He finds Anne Rice humorous, he snarkily calls the Twilight brood “My-Little-Vampires” …which is, I think, rather unfair to the My-Little-Ponies of this world, he says True Blood makes him want to beat his head against a wall for the next fifty years, and he’s rather intrigued by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though he rolls his eyes at certain excessively Victorian passages. On the whole, he insists that vampires are monsters and is not a fan of humanizing them. Considering what vampires are like in his universe, and the fact that he, himself, is one, I can definitely see his point of view.
And yet, it isn’t really my point of view. I agree with him about some things, and disagree about others. That wouldn’t be so disconcerting if it were objective. If I were able to step back and think “this character would react to this thing in this way.” That would be character-building in the way most non-writers I know think it works (and that may be how it works for some lucky people). But no. It’s a feeling, a sense that comes unbidden. I don’t think about it, I feel it, and the only thing that separates it from my own feeling is a conviction that it belongs to one of my characters.
No, please! Don’t call the men in white coats. I only do what the voices tell me to do on paper. Er, you know what I mean. I hope.
I think this process makes me a better writer. It certainly makes my life interesting.
Today, one of my character’s “discovered” a poem I’ve known since childhood. I like the poem. It means things to me, has a certain texture and light. But now I see it also through another set of eyes, and evermore I will associate it with her, and her feelings, as well.
She has a different relationship to roads than I do. She is always looking for the road home, a road into the past. Sadly, for her, all roads only lead into the future, and she knows it. But knowing something is impossible does not take the longing for it away.
In other words, to her, this poem carries with it a deeper poignancy, a kind of sadness I, as myself, would never quite find in it. Isn’t that one reason people read? To share experiences that they, as themselves, will never have? Perhaps, too, some of us write in order to walk, for a little while, in another’s boots and see the world through other eyes.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth;.Then took the other, as just as fair,And having perhaps the better claim,Because it was grassy and wanted wear;Though as for that the passing thereHad worn them really about the same,.And both that morning equally layIn leaves no step had trodden black.Oh, I kept the first for another day!Yet knowing how way leads on to way,I doubted if I should ever come back..I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference..