The Voices in My Head Are Telling Me to Write...

October 14, 2011

It always fascinates me to hear about other writers' processes, with all their variations. I love hearing how they come up with characters, and how they interact with them--or don’t--both on the page and in their imaginations.

I've always been one of those writers whose characters talk to her. This is mostly true for the characters in my epic Fantasy series, who I've known since 1998 and who continue to surprise me. Like Jiminey Crickets for writers, they seem to talk to me most when I haven't written in a long time. Once, in college, I dreamed that they were plotting how to kill me. I don't remember what scene or change I'd been considering at the time, but I do remember that it had been a while since I'd written my novel--I'd let papers and other college assignments take over my time. I went back to writing very quickly.

Of course, they don't normally talk to me in such a direct, dramatic fashion. Most of the time I'll get a scene stuck in my head that plays over and over again, on loop. I'll run through it like it's a movie reel in my head, watching it over and over again, repeating dialogue multiple times and working out possibilities in my imagination. I rarely obsess over scenes in the books I'm actually working on--normally they're ones that are planned, but don't have anything started on paper yet.

Recently, I've done very little forward writing. I work on many projects at once--at the moment, editing the first novel in the series, working on writing its sequel forward (in other words, it's not done yet), editing short stories, and writing a paper on e-publishing for my MFA. The paper and the editing have gotten the most attention for the past six months, even though I've left all the  characters in my sequel in really, really bad spots. One's trapped in a cave in a cliff, two are in an oubliette, and one is fighting for her life. Bad things all around. But I've had deadlines for everything else, and switched jobs, and, well, I had to prioritize.

It's been about three months since I last wrote forward. And for about the same amount of time, one character, Roderick (who's trapped in the cave) is in a scene that loops around my mind almost whenever I think about any of my novels. He's pacing back and forth in front of someone, completely at his wit's end, and finally looks at them and says, "Sit down." That's it. Everything else is hazy. I've tried putting other characters in the scene with him, tried making him say more, but it never works. That's all I had. I didn't even know when in the series the scene fits in; all I knew is that it's important.

Then, the other day at work, I had a breakthrough on the scene. I was spacing out, waiting for a program to load, and the scene popped up. Except this time Roderick was actually angry, and he turned to look directly at my imaginary camera and said, "Sit down and write."

Well, damn. That's pretty clear, actually. Maybe it was because I'd been talking with Lauren Oliver, the author of Before I Fall and Delirium earlier that day, and hearing her talk about her 1,000 word a day writing habit made me realize that I hadn't written that much in a long time. Maybe it was just due to all the creative juices I've been exposed to lately, going to 2-3 author events a week. Whatever the case, it's true that I need to start working on my novels more diligently than I have been.

So thank you, Roderick.

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