At the risk of sounding schizophrenic (I’m pretty sure most people think I’m a bit neurotic, at the very least): Yes, I talk to my characters. And yes, they talk back to me. I don’t know if that’s the case for every fiction author, but I suspect it is, at least on some level.
To me, Alys Kinnear is a very real person. I don’t know if she only lives in my imagination, or if I’m tapping into (or, as Robert Heinlein proposed, actually creating) another universe to tell her stories. I’m not sure it matters, really.
Either way, characters in my novels – main characters, at least – are never just characters. I have conversations with them in my head, sometimes in the form of an interview, sometimes just talking. I use that as a way of getting to know them, which helps me flesh out who they are in the novel I’m working on.
If I can’t get a character to talk to me, it’s an early warning sign that the story isn’t working right. I wish I’d been aware of that when I was working on Knights Errant…sadly, it’s a realization that only came to me in the last couple of years. But realizing it has helped improve my writing by giving me a litmus test for the story.
The end result, or at least the ideal goal, is for the characters to become fully realized people. Not literally…Alys doesn’t actually appear and stand behind my shoulder while I’m writing, dictating her memoirs to me (or does she?). But she definitely does talk to me, helps me define who she is, and helps me write her stories. When she doesn’t…I know I’m doing something wrong, and it’s time to take a step back and review.
Robert Heinlein proposed the concept of “Pantheistic multiple-ego solipsism” (or the World as Myth) to describe the idea that an author (or artist of any variety) actually creates a parallel universe simply by writing about it. The pantheistic solipsism can be described as all myths and fictional universes existing as parallel universes to our own, and that persons and beings from those universes can interact with one another. Including – especially – creators and their creations.
He took it to its ultimate (and delightfully bonkers) conclusion in Number of the Beast, where his main characters hold a multi-universal convention, inviting all of the greatest writers and fictional characters to come and rub elbows with one another. Critics (and some reporters) were gently shown to a lounge where they could observe the proceedings but not interact with any of the guests…a lounge which turns out to be the dimensional equivalent of a Klein Bottle. Which tells us everything we need to know about Heinlein’s feelings on the matter. 😊
Does that mean that somewhere, in a nearby universe, Alys Kinnear is real and that I have some sort of connection with her? I like to think so. I find the idea very comforting, somehow. Am I telling her stories, or creating her stories?
I think the best answer is just “Yes.”