Monday, July 25, 2005

The voices in our heads

Unless you're schizophrenic (or a writer, and is there all that much difference, really?) you may be a little creeped out by this: most fiction writers, at least from time to time, hear voices in their heads. When we write dialogue we are not making up conversations so much as transcribing the ones we hear in our minds.

I guess it's a little like the way we dream at night. Our subconscious minds slip their leashes and raid the data banks of our memories for odd bits and then string them together to make good dreams, bad dreams, or downright weird dreams. It's not something we do on purpose. Generally, we wake up shaking our heads and muttering, "Where on earth did that come from?"

That's what it's like for writers. We can get so caught up in our own stories that sometimes we feel like we're watching them, not creating them. We don't plan for the protagonist to say something wise or funny or shocking; we hear him say it and then we simply write it down. Yes, we've created the characters and the situations, but our story people often surprise us and drag us with them into wholly unexpected situations. Like the dreamer, we're not really in control. And yet our stories, like dreams, are coming straight out of our own minds.

I don't know if most writers are born hearing voices or if it's something we just pick up. But I can tell you that when an imagination is exercised daily, it becomes stronger. Writers are often asked if they're afraid of running out of ideas. We aren't, any more than a track star is worried that a long, hard run will use up all of his leg muscles. He might tire and need a rest (writer's block) but he'll come back stronger because excersize doesn't deplete muscles, it builds them.

This morning when I should have been doing laundry, thinking about which suitcases to pack, and getting otherwise organized for my trip to Reno, I've been working on a romance novel. No, I'm not under a deadline; my editor doesn't even know about this project (although I'll tell her in a couple of days). But when I woke up this morning the hero of my story was talking, and because I was afraid he wasn't going to repeat himself at a more convenient time, I hurried downstairs to my office and began taking notes.

He's quiet now, so I'd better get started on that laundry.


RebMel said...


It's so nice to hear another writer describe that 'a little bit frightening' process. On my last fiction novel, I spent the entire time running behind the characters, describing what I saw, what they did, and what they said. I felt as though I had no input, whatsoever, and no one was more surprised than I when by the end of the ms. all the loose strings came together to meld into a fantastic climax.

If anyone had asked me mid-way through it, how is this all going to tie together? I would have said, 'I have no idea'.

In Christ,

lindaruth said...

I sometimes refer to the characters in my story as "the people living in my head." Well, that's where they are! It's nice to know I'm not the only one. :)

Heather Diane Tipton said...

LOL thanks Brenda this cracked me up... The voices thought it was funny too ;-)

Gina said...

i have this same problem. Well, it really isn't the problem. I don't think my mind ever shuts up. My problem isn't the lack of things to write, ideas, characters, and dialogue all live within my head. After writing some characters after a long period of time, they almost seem as if they are real. When I try to explain this to those that don't write, some just don't get it.

Jaynie R said...


You mean some people don't hear voices?

How strange *g*