Do Characters Write Themselves?

To all the writers out there, would-be or published:

While listening to an NPR books podcast in which Arun Rath interviews Douglas Coupland about his latest book, Worst Person Ever, I was struck once again by an author asserting how a fictional character can write itself.

 The thing about characters — and this is weird, I mean, I’ve been doing this for 14 books now — is you start writing a book, and then about a quarter of the way in, usually the characters basically write the book itself and you’re just sitting there channeling it.

I have experienced this phenomenon personally. It tends to happen not only through a very strongly defined character, as above, but also while commandeering a cogent plot. Although technically one has control over what one writes, in these situations one cannot create without consultation. If you don’t really know how your tale will end (or even if you do; if you’ve planned it out carefully using outlines and story boards) your characters will chime in, they’ll insist.


Use the force, listen to these voices, agree with them; they spout the truth. Usually, if you try to shove in any other direction the story will ring as discordant as a tone-deaf chorister. And speaking of sound, it’s an important mode of recognizing a false tone. Read your work out loud, if it sounds spurious, it is. If you write whatever, novels, stories, blogs, and this hasn’t happened to you, don’t fear, it will; and when it does you’ll agree that the phenomenon is otherworldly, spiritual, the shit, however you call it, just remember to open up your mind and listen to your characters. Before you know it, you’re a channeler.

Do Characters Write Themselves?

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