Collecting characters

We’ve talked a lot about the things we collect here this month (who knew we collected so much?). Recently, I realized, that as a writer, I collect something else.

I collect characters.

This realization came through Facebook exchange on my author page. I posted about my new project, a story that makes use of a new set of characters. In the post, I said, “I hope Jim and Sally don’t get too jealous and stop talking to me.” Because that would be kind of bad (and yes, if you’re a writer, you totally get the concept of imaginary people talking to you and you understand it completely; if you aren’t a writer, I would like to take this opportunity to say I am okay, and you don’t need to call the guys with padded rooms and jackets that snap in the back).

A reader responded, “New characters? Isn’t it getting a little crowded in there?” My head, she meant.

Well, yes.

See, I share head space with a lot of people, as I write two different series and now this third book (which, hey, might become a series – I’ve been told they are series-worthy characters). I am currently offering room and board to the following:

  • Jaycee/Lyla, Stu, Roger, and Starla, the crew of the Hero’s Sword series;
  • Jim, Sally and their friends (such as deputy coroner Tom Burns) from The Laurel Highlands Mysteries;
  • Jackson and Max, the characters for the new book.

That’s a lot of people. Thankfully, they don’t eat much.

People ask me, how do you keep them all straight? Honestly, it’s not that hard. They all have different voices. Jaycee, as a 13-year old girl, talks much differently than Sally, a professional woman in her early 30s. Jim, my Pennsylvania State Trooper, sounds a lot different from Jackson, my Niagara Falls homicide detective.

They have different stories and different ways of telling their stories. So it’s fairly easy to keep them straight. That’s not the problem.

The problem is when all of them want to talk at the same time.

Some writers can work multiple projects at a time. Me, not so much. My attention gets fractured. I can’t give each person the care and dedication that he/she deserves. Their voices get muddled and it’s harder to hear them. Although, when one of them has something to say, well, he or she can get pretty loud.

It makes me sound a little schizophrenic, really, that I’ve got all these voices in my head. But I do. And I love all them like dear friends. I’ll never turn them off with my wardrobe, or my language, or my bad habits – because my habits are their habits. They are not only friends, but each of them reflects a facet of my personality.

Yes, the collection can get a little scattered and frenetic at times. They’re a hard bunch to keep up with. But honestly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for fifteen years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, her short fiction has been published in online magazines Uppagus and Mysterical-e. She has also had stories included in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

8 thoughts on “Collecting characters”

  1. Mary, I love this! I hope the new characters do get their own series. Those imaginary people can get quite chatty, and yes, even bossy if we’re not listening. (Do you ever wonder if the early residents of the padded rooms should have been writers, and just didn’t know it?) Great post!

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  2. Ah, the truth will out. Writers are highly functional schizophrenics? Or maybe we’re more like actors. We get to try on different personalities, do and say things we’d never do in our daily lives, and go places we most likely won’t go.

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  3. I do love this so very much because I can relate. What surprises me even more is that, in addition to the multiple casts of characters in my head, I sometimes find myself thinking about characters from series that I’ve read. “I wonder when they’ll be back?” I think between books. So apparently, there’s not only enough room in my head for my own characters, but room and board for visitors too!

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  4. Pam, yes! In fact, there was an article in the Buffalo paper earlier this week citing “creatives” as higher-risk for mental illness such as depression and schizophrenia. So instead of locking those people into rooms, someone should have given them pen and paper. Who knows what we lost out on?

    Theresa, I agree. “I’m a high-functioning schizo” to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes. And yes, I can see the analogy to actors. Look at Heath Ledger, who got so immersed in the Joker role that, well, we know where that led.

    Diane, I figured you could relate. And yes, there is a portion of my head devoted to characters in other books too. There must be more room in that “head hotel” than I thought.

    Sarah, it astounds me. The characters in the new book are so much different in tone and use of language. Jim Duncan would never, except under extreme stress, drop the F-word. Jackson does it much more frequently – and it feels much more natural to write, too. And then there are the middle-grade characters who are COMPLETELY different than the adults. But it’s all me. Go figure.

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