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I just read an article online and thought "this is great, I should forward the link to Phoebe."

Phoebe is one of my characters.


I've already had characters tell me how they would speak or dress, what their underlying motivations are, or who they are when they grow up (the main action takes place when they're teens/pre-teens in 1995, so they're in their 30's now).

In some ways, that's similar to the question Characters that take on a life of their own. But that's still within the story.

Now my characters are jumping out of the story and worming their way into my life. What's the best way to channel, handle, or survive this part of the writing process?

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If I were you, I would write a book about a writer who worries she is losing her mind when she begins interacting with her characters as though they were real people. That's a book I would buy if you wrote it!

As advice to the real-life version of you, however, I would say, don't worry about it. We all have many people living rent-free inside our heads --alternate versions of our selves, or copies of real people who have had significant impacts on our lives. You just happen to be more in contact with it than most people. For a writer, it's hard to not see this as an advantage.

I wouldn't worry about it as any sort of a sign of mental illness or anything. Although, as I said earlier, it would be fun to read a book about a writer who does worry about that (or about a writer who really is mentally ill, or about a magical realist version, where the characters actually do intrude into real life).

  • I actually think it's been done. But thank you. And shhhh I'm not actually worried. My main goal was to write a question that people would engage with (see meta posts about graduation, question counts, etc), plus I really do want to hear from others who interact with their characters, I just wasn't sure how to write it. Then this opportunity presented itself. Didn't get as many eyeballs or responses as I'd hoped. I seem to be better at answers than questions. :-) – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 28 '19 at 16:36
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Question:

What's the best way to channel, handle, or survive this part of the writing process?

Answer: Keep a notebook handy. Always. And, set aside time to spend with that character.

But additionally, set time aside for the other characters too. Give them one-on-one time.

The characters that arrive fully-formed may well be a part of yourself that is within your core personality. Your truest thoughts. However, the other characters are within you too, and given some coaxing they might share some very valuable insight. Quiet insight.

But secondarily, don't be afraid to direct the strong characters. Put them in situations they don't want to be in. Insist they have conversations with the people they'd rather avoid. You're in charge. It is nice when a character is opinionated, but that doesn't mean they get to write the story.

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    Depending on the author's preferences, a voice memo recorder could also be something to keep handy. – Ed Grimm Jan 27 '19 at 1:15
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You're describing a habit of thought.

You've spent a lot of time developing your characters, so you may have also developed the habit of thinking about them as their own personalities, like memories of someone you know but haven't talked to in a very long time. Of course you know they're nothing more than fictional characters, but the human mind will form habits if it does things often enough.

Actors have a similar issue when the qualities of the characters they play during a long film production seep over to their regular lives simply because they've developed a habit of thinking, feeling and behaving in character.

The solution is to consciously put Phoebe back in her box.

Whenever this happens, think to yourself, "No, I'm putting my fictional characters away until I choose to think about them."

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