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They Just Won’t Shut UP!!


No, I am not talking about politicians or children asking incessant questions 😉

I am talking about the characters in my novels. Sometimes, their voices are so loud I often wonder if I might not be schizophrenic or something. Let’s be honest, if I told people that there were voices in my head, they would be sidling away and looking for a way to escape talking to the crazy lady. I wonder what they would do if I told them that most of the characters aren’t even human?

Before I write a chapter, I usually spend days working it out in my head. This worked especially well while I was in grad school. Believe it or not, a lot of the work I did at the end of the doctoral training was fairly mindless work. I did Alzheimer’s research and that meant doing experiments on mouse models for the disease (yes, mice can get Alzheimer’s, but only if we force them to). Part of that work entailed me putting the mice through a test called the Morris water maze, euthenizing the mice after the tests were complete, and freezing their brains for tissue sectioning. Then, I would slice the brains using a cryostat and place the section on slides for staining experiements.

None of the above (except for the analysis of the water maze test) took any real brain power on my part. I wasn’t doing super delicate surgeries (which I also had to do as part of my doctoral work) or complex math that required me to remain focused on the task at hand. The sectioning of the brain tissue was REALLY mindless work. All you do is slice a piece of tissue and put it on a slide, repeat until the slide is full, then move on to another slide. I spent weeks sectioning tissue after spending 3 months straight doing the water maze testing.

My mind was left free to do a lot of other things. Sometimes, I would listen to the radio. I was the only one in the lab toward the end so there wasn’t anyone to complain about my music. But most of the time, I would let the characters talk to their heart’s content. I found that these sessions really let me hash out dialog and to really listen to their individual voices and personalities, and to try my best to let that come out in the writing (which is hard with as many main characters as I had).

These times were also useful for working out the direction of the next chapter, or two or three sometimes, depending on how easily things worked themselves out. I kept a little spiral notebook to write stuff down but I didn’t use it nearly as often as I thought I would. I was quite surprised at how well I could remember the scenes that has just unfolded in my mind.

I hope that someday I can see my work on the big screen. Maybe because I have already “seen” it in these moments. I have also had several people tell me that as they were reading The Chosen, they could also see the movie playing in their head.

So how do you work through your scenes? Do you plan everything in your head before you write, or do you plan on paper, and rewrite each scene over and over?

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