This week in my Cognitive Science of Fiction class (at the University of Oklahoma), we’re talking about the psychology of writing. Specifically, we’ve been talking a lot about whether writers are more likely to perceive writing as an act of creation or an act of discovery.
In the class, we do a lot of experimental design (yay, science!), and the first step of the scientific method is observation. Since I am a writer, this means my students have been probing the way that I think about these things, but I told them I would post their questions to tumblr to see if other writers (published or otherwise!) would like to chime in.
So if you have a few minutes and you’re a writer, I’d love it if you could answer one or more of the following questions:
1. Do you ever perceive your characters as having any free will? Do you feel like you consciously control everything your characters do, or do you sometimes feel like they control their own actions?
Well, I really hope that I control the characters. To have control over the characters means to create them in the way I want them to be. Otherwise they would become inconsistent and the story would not be authentic. Once, another writer told me while writing his story, suddenly a Japanese character plopped onto his page. He told me, he “did not know where the character came from, but now that he was here, I had to integrate him into the story.” While obviously for this writer, characters have a free will (If it wasn’t so, how could they just appear on his pages?), I have to control mine.
Admittedly, sometimes I write a scene and lateron I realize that a specific behavior does not fit the character. Maybe this is a kind of free will the characters have, as they tell me that I have to write them another scene that fits better. But I really hope that I control them, and not vice versa. ;)
2. Do you perceive your characters as having more free will (or more of a “mind of their own”) if they are similar to you or dissimilar to you? Does the point of view you are writing in ever affect this?
No, as stated above, they do not have any free will. Hence, being similar to me or not doesn’t change anything.
3. Do reader/fan reactions ever change your understanding of who a character “really is” (or have you ever discovered something you did not realize was true about one of your characters based on feedback from early readers?)
No, they do not. I create the characters with a special picture of them, their actions and their souls in mind and I know the whole story of their life. But I am interested in what others think of the characters, what they see in them and if, maybe, they come to think the same of the characters than I do.
4. If you’ve ever had a movie made from your book, do you think the movie altered your mental image/concept/understanding of the character in any way?
No, I’ve never had a movie made from my books.