Author, Characters, Dream, Fiction, Novel, Writing

Dreaming on paper

Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors. She’s a prolific writer, but she rarely gives interviews. I can understand that; I’m a very private person too. But in one interview, she stated that she never writes about herself. I suspect she was hedging a bit.

Someone asked me which of the characters in my novel-in-progress is me. My answer was, “All of them.” Not that I’m narcissistic. I certainly don’t think I’m the most interesting person I could write about. But—really—who else do I know well enough?

I create a file for each of my characters. Not only do I have a physical description in mind, but I know such things as their full names; birth dates and locations; parents’ and siblings’ names; educational and work backgrounds; the size, style, location and décor of their homes; their likes and dislikes in food, clothing, music, and so on, and so forth, et cetera. This is much more information than I’ll actually use in the book, of course. And as the writing progresses, I might make small changes, or additions to this file, but I need to know my characters as “real people” before I start.

And then—I spend a good deal of my writing time with my eyes closed.

I watch my characters, hear them, feel their emotions, all the while taking notes (or dictation, as I blogged a few days ago). And, just like in my dreams, all these characters are me because they come “out of my mind.”

So, to me, fiction writing is nothing more than dreaming on paper. Lucid dreaming. I do get to be in control, but even then, I need to be open to re-direction, if I start pushing one of my characters in a direction they didn’t intend to go.

So, if you see me sitting with my eyes closed … I’m not napping, I’m writing.

8 thoughts on “Dreaming on paper”

  1. I was just reading about this in Writer’s Digest. Nancy Kress says “In one sense, every character you create will be yourself. You’ve never murdered, but your murderer’s rage will be drawn from memories of your own extreme anger. Your love scenes will contain hints of your own past kisses.”

    I was able to write about Mark, the drug addict in Pipe Dreams, not because of my own experience, but because of my exposure to that kind of element. I had to be in Marks’s head to write the story and to do that I had to draw from my own past and the real people who influenced me.

    I doubt I could write about someone completely unfamiliar to me and do it convincingly.


  2. I know my characters well, but perhaps not as well as you know yours. I think I might have to write a profile for each of my characters. That would be fun. Like you said, not that you would ever put all of it in the story, but it’s important for the author to know as much about their characters as possible. Great post, Linda. Thanks.


  3. “Lucid dreaming” is a great way to think about fiction writing! You’re kinda in control, but when it really flows — kinda not.
    And that’s what makes it fun.
    I have a crazy detailed list of character attributes I think about. I’ll bring it to the next meeting.


    1. That would be interesting, Paul. If you’ve done detailed lists for all your Mt. Echo characters, that must be a book in itself!


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