Double Mind

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.


The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To 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 there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In 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 sigh
Somewhere 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.
I’m always interested to hear how other writers relate (or don’t relate) to this kind of interaction. So, please! Comment! And if anyone has questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.
Apart from being generally talkative, sometimes my characters seem a bit authorcidal. More thoughts on influence and inspiration can be found here.
If you’re interested in fiction tidbits, or more thoughts on writing theory, prod the tabs up top. “Fiction” under “Words and Faces” is my stuff. “Writing” and “Writing Theory” have my musings about the craft itself.
I know I’ve said, before, that I plan on adding new mask-pics to this blog. I promise that I still plan on doing so soon!

About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

26 responses to “Double Mind

  • bobraxton

    Does your character memorize this poem? Mike Chasar in the newest POETRY magazine has a fascinating COMMENT work “Orality, Literacy and the Memorized Poem” which I have not quite finished digesting. Some interesting comments on the poet Frost.

    • jubilare

      If she does/has, I’m not aware of it, and it wouldn’t show up in-story, though she does have a knack for memorizing as the tradition she grew up in is largely oral.

      Memory is an interesting thing in this context because the only memory involved is mine. And yet, given how the mind stores information, the fact that we have “files” that we can’t necessarily access at will, things that get lost in the shuffle of taking in information, my characters are perfectly capable of surprising me with information I didn’t know I had.
      Also, I can be aware that a character has information that I know I do not have. For instance, a character may know how to cook a certain dish, and I am aware that he knows how, but I do not know how to do it myself.

      I had the odd experience, once, of a character having a syndrome that I didn’t (consciously) know existed.

  • robstroud

    “No, please! Don’t call the men in white coats.”

    Now there’s one useful phrase!

  • Brenton Dickieson

    How many writers have said this! “Don’t call the men in white coats.”

  • stephencwinter

    I haven’t had the courage to write fiction since winning a short story competition at university. That feels a long time ago. Somehow it feels a scary thing to do & that there would be nowhere to hide once I did it.

    • jubilare

      I would like to be able to publish under a pseudonym. It’s a hard thing to pull off anonymity in this era, but it’s worth a try. It’s not that I would feel any shame in my work, but that I don’t like being the center of any amount of attention, bad or good. Also, I would prefer my work to be judged on its own merits rather than being analyzed through the lens of my supposed intent.

      • stephencwinter

        As you see, I am happy to put my name to the conversations around my own & other people’s blogs. I think that is because non-fiction & critical writing allows a certain distance. Fiction is much more intimate, or so it feels to me. Joanna Rowling was anonymous as J.K Rowling but lost that when she became the famous author of Harry Potter.

        • jubilare

          I seriously doubt that I’m the next J. K. Rowling, or even the next transient fad, but the time to worry about that bridge is if I come to it.
          I suppose that not having anonymity might be a cross I’m asked to bear. The thought frankly terrifies me. But I believe writing is something I’ve been called to do, even tasked with, and if that’s the case… then to fail to write and fail to publish would be disobedience.

          • stephencwinter

            I am sure that you are right and your use of the language of the cross is entirely appropriate here. Of course that also opens up the hope of the resurrection as well but unless the fear of losing what we hold dear is utterly real I don’t think we should ever speak of the cross. And, by the way, what you say is a challenge to me as well.

          • jubilare

            I was a little afraid to use the cross imagery, here. In this context, it could easily come off as disingenuous, or even pretentious. I’m glad you understand. For whatever reason, I am deeply attached to my anonymity, and the threat of losing it is going to be a big obstacle in my path when it comes time to try and publish.

            I’m a little sorry about that… it wasn’t intended as a challenge. Only a little, though, because if you took it as a challenge, maybe my words had more of a purpose than I knew. :)

          • stephencwinter

            I am glad to be challenged. You did that simply by saying what was on your mind, in your heart. To be challenged in that way is both a gift and an invitation to grow.

  • Colleen

    Great post. Loved reading this. When, oh when, are we going to work together?

  • Stephanie Orges

    I’m slightly jealous in that I can only share this feeling with you partially. I do tend to associate songs and Bible verses with my characters, but not in the sense that I can feel how THEY’D feel about the song or scripture.

    Perhaps because I’m too often trying to impose my personality on them, or what I logically think they would do, or what I need them to do for the plot. I make a lot of misses and rewrites before I hit the reaction I can feel is right.

    They do surprise me on the page when I get into their heads deep enough. On the most recent draft of my WIP, I was in the middle of the climax, right at the part where a certain character is supposed to be kicking butt and taking names, when he just laid down and gave up. I had to figure out how to get him up again. it was both frustrating and exhilarating.

    • jubilare

      Different people just seem to process writing differently. Perhaps the fact that I’m an empath means my brain is wired to translate character information in terms of emotion? I tend to be a skeptic about woogly things like true empathy, but I’ve had too many experiences of feeling the emotions of people I am close to, even when separated by a few thousand miles, to discount.

      Don’t be too jealous, though. It can be a double edged sword. There are times where I wish it was easier for me to step back and look at things objectively!

      From what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem like you are trying to impose your personality on your characters, consciously or unconsciously. There’s too much variety and agency among them for that. I would argue that logic is a good thing, because even if characters don’t do the logical thing, you will at least recognize that they are being illogical, and that is more than many writers achieve. I’ve read stuff where the writer seems to have no concept of what would be logical in-story, and the story always suffers.
      As for plot railroading, that’s between you and your characters. ;) It’s also something that you are self-aware enough to combat, as evidenced by the fact that you DO keep editing until the reactions feel right. I mostly fumble in the dark when it comes to plot, as I know the basic arc and a few bullet-points along the way, but I have very little detail in between. As a result, I am primarily character-led, but even so I spend a lot of time editing and refining until I get the interactions right.

      Hahahah! Yeah, I know that frustrating/exhilarating moment of “what the hell are you doing? But, wait, what?” and then having to figure out what happens from there. I really do think that things like that, times when what we expect to happen goes sideways, add a depth and reality to our work that won’t come any other way. ^_^

  • Stephanie Orges

    Ah! I, too, tend to be skeptical (ironic among sci-fi/fantasy writers), but I have another friend who sometimes has emphatic experiences. Once she had this horrible feeling of fear in the middle of the afternoon for no apparent reason. She later found out her boyfriend (now husband) had been in a minor motorcycle accident right around that time.

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” and all that jazz.

    I’m glad you don’t see too much of me in my characters – or that you see enough variety in them. I think that also comes from a multi-mindedness. While I don’t directly see the influence of my characters, I do sometimes feel like I have multiple personalities. My reactions to any given thing are often mixed. Not sure if it’s a writer thing or a female thing. Who was it who said a man married to a good woman has a veritable harem in spirit? Chesterton?

    Well, sometimes the editing only comes after ignoring the problem for months, but it happens eventually. And I certainly have problems with logic, too, but ah well. We carry on.

    • jubilare

      Ironic, indeed! But perhaps necessary? After all, we have to defend our work and our genres a LOT. >_<
      Yep. We live in a weird, weird universe, and the irony is that we are able to know that it is weird! How weird is that?!

      Then there isn't too much of a difference between us in that regard. Multiple personalities? Check. Mixed reactions? Check. ^_^ I've not heard that saying, but I think I love it!

      Sometimes ignoring the problem is the only way to solve it. And then there are the problems that you don't notice until you're editing, or worse, when someone else spots them!

      • Stephanie Orges

        True, I suppose. Do you ever edit when you’re away from your book? I’ll be washing dishes or something and think of a sentence I need to change.

        • jubilare

          Sentences, no. I fear my memory is to abyssal for that, at least when it comes to words on a pace. Scene-edits, yes. Scene edits, or new scenes and even scraps of dialog love to hit me while I am driving, especially on long trips. :P I really should carry a recorder with me (or get a smart-phone… sigh).

  • medievalotaku

    I’ve also had characters with separate opinions from me–at least, so it seems. Probably just the ability to get inside other people’s heads, which is the mark of a good writer.

  • Terpsichore

    Part of me recognizes this from writing, but it more frequently occurs – to me, anyway – in discussions of what I’ve read or watched. There are songs that have been claimed by Sirius Black, or poems that I read differently through a Sherlock Holmes or Harriet Vane lens. Turns of phrase which would hardly register with me would strike Winston Smith like a bell (or a number of bells).

    Or is this a somewhat different concept? Obviously I didn’t *create* any of those characters, but I’ve occasional spontaneous ideas of “Oh, he’d feel/react this or that way in this situation” nonetheless.

    • jubilare

      Ah, I think it may be much the same thing, or at least something that has similar root causes! It’s also something I envy a little.

      I can understand characters that are not my own, but I don’t develop that deep of a connection to them. I have more of a sympathetic rather than an empathic connection to them.

  • Creative Blogger Award! | jubilare

    […] my real life (I have one that loves to snark at movies, and all of them are very reactive to music). I’ve said this before, but please don’t call the folks in white coats. I’m really not delusional. My […]

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