interview/Q&A for Scholastic Books, in response to being asked if Charles Wallace, one of the main characters in her Newbery Award-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time is based on a real person, L'Engle replies, "I don’t base my characters on real people because if I do I’m limited by what I know of that person. I like them to be who they are." And in an interview with the magazine New Moon in 1996, L'Engle tells the "New Moon Girls" who are serving as interviews: "Most writers of fiction will agree that our characters do things we don't expect them to. They say things we didn't plan for them to say. And they know better than we do, so we have to listen to them." L'Engle speaks of the characters she has created as if they were actual people, people separate from her rather than constructs from her own mind. They act, they know, they speak.
I was struck by this thread in L'Engle's interviews in part because I had just read something quite similar in an interview by a major romance writer. In an interview for The Writer magazine, historical romance author Beverly Jenkins says this about dialogue: "This will probably sound strange to those who are not writers, but my stories play in my head like a movie, and I can hear the pitch, rhythm and flow of the characters' voices as they speak." And this about suspense: "Being a pantser allows my characters the freedom to take me along for the ride and sometimes lead me to places and situations that are so jaw-dropping my fingers are flying over the keyboard in an effort to keep up."
I'm wondering, though, do most writers of fiction feel this way about their characters? That their characters speak to them, that they are somehow separate from the writer who has created them? I don a fiction-writing hat almost every morning, but I've never thought of the characters in my stories as separate from my own self, my own creativity. I don't always feel rationally in control of my writing, but that is because my unconscious sometimes points me in a direction that my conscious brain has not yet considered. But even my unconscious is a part of me, not a character with an existence separate from my own.
Because my thinking about characters is so different, I've been wondering a lot why so many writers talk about their characters as if they are not their own creations. Are they simply speaking metaphorically, as if their unconscious ideas are coming from a different source than their conscious ones? Is thinking about your characters in this way a personality thing, the difference between what Jenkins terms a "pantser," a writer who makes things up as she writes, vs. a "plotter," someone who plans a story out ahead of time?
I'm also wondering if the trope of characters speaking to an author is more often heard from female writers than from male writers. Historically, women have had to justify speaking out and writing, have had to prove that what they say is valid, is as worthy as the speech and writing of men. Is claiming that a character speaks to you, which makes it appear as if a writer is channeling the voice of another rather than creating it herself, allow a writer to sidestep the burden of providing justification for what she writes?
Would love to hear from other romance writers about whether or not their characters speak to them, and in what guise(s)...