Imaginary Friends

I am forty-seven years old and I have imaginary friends. There, I’ve admitted it.

I’ve always had imaginary friends, since I was a small child living a solitary farm life with one much older brother and no other kids around to play with. I had a “friend” who lived in one of our barns. In my mind the barn was a beautiful house. I had the floor plan and furnishings all laid out in my head. I could have become an interior designer. But instead, I write mysteries.

I still create imaginary worlds in my head. And I get to put my imaginary friends down on paper. With luck, I’ll eventually start seeing some money coming in as a result and NOT the guys in white coats coming to take me away. Ha ha.

My characters very often take over the scene. I try to keep them reined in to the general confines of the plot I have in mind, but they don’t always listen. And even when they play nice, they frequently throw in something I hadn’t expected. They’re always revealing things about themselves that I hadn’t known previously. And this is the second novel we’ve been involved with, so I know most of them pretty well.


I have one character who is new to this particular novel and he isn’t playing fair. He won’t talk to me. He won’t let me in on his motivations. Granted, he’s supposed to be a bit intimidating and very mysterious, but you’d think he’d let me in on some of his secrets. But, no. I can’t even hear his voice when he speaks. While most of my characters have rather distinctive mannerisms and speech patterns, this guy hasn’t let me in yet. What I DO get from him is a smirk.

I’m not too concerned at this point, though. It’s just the first draft. I’m just making stuff up for him to say in his scenes. I hope that as the story progresses, he’ll come to trust me enough to show his true self to me and give me his own words. He’d better. I’m the writer here and if he wants his story told, he’d darned well better let me in on the joke.

There are other tricks I could employ if he continues to be stubborn. I can do a character chart for him. I have a prescribed list of questions such as hair color, date of birth, events in the character’s past that shaped his present, favorite this, favorite that. Those can be enlightening, but I’ve found my characters sometimes lie to me. They’ll tell me one thing about themselves in the chart and then something totally different reveals itself during the course of the actual story. So I don’t rely very heavily on character charts except for the bare basics. Color of eyes, where they went to college, where they live, stuff like that.

But I may have to try it with this character just to get him to open up a little.

Or I could try interviewing him. This happens on the page. A little Q and A between me and my mysterious character where I ask him specific questions relating to the story and his past. He may or may not be forthcoming. But even if he fabricates his answers, that in itself will tell me something about him. And just getting him talking will give me a sense of his voice.

Yes, I think that may be the way to go.

So, do any of you writers out there struggle with getting to know certain characters more than others?

And do you non-writers out there now fear for my sanity?

No need to fear. I can tell you right now. I’m stark, raving nuts. After all, I’m forty-seven years old and still talk to my imaginary friends.


Rural Writer said…
Im a non-fiction writer but have a very sence of what your saying. I often have a similar struggle trying to figure out the people I interview and research.
Good Luck.
Have you made any progress on your office, BTW?
Annette said…
Rural writer, so far most of my progress on the office has happened in my head...thinking of what I want and how to accomplish it. I have managed to give away some of the stuff that's been collecting dust and have thrown away some other junk. Still a long way to go.
Anonymous said…
Hi annette,
It what I love about writing having new friends in my head. I can shape them to be as I want them to be until they take over my story. Then they take on their own lives.
It's both strange and wonderful
Susan said…
Yeah, I've had some pull this trick on me. Give this dude time and space and he'll come around. He's probably been burned before.

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