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Old 12-29-2015, 10:21 AM   #1
gmw
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Hearing voices

After receiving a comment about my "Hearing Voices" post in the Writing/Writers Quotes thread I thought it might be worth opening a thread on the subject.

I do, sort of, hear voices when the writing is going well. Not an audible whispering in the ear, but in the sense that I'm writing down what I remember the character saying. Sometimes it is the memory of some piece of dialogue (first "remembered" earlier in the day) that will hurry me back to the keyboard.

I'm not trying to pretend anything mystic or strange, or even unusual, here. It seems to me that this is simply a natural consequence of investing yourself heavily in your characters. It is a lot like getting deeply involved in reading a good book. After a while you are not reading "he said", "she said", rather, it becomes a matter of having heard the characters speak, even if you can't actually say that you could hear their voices.

This effect is largely why I write. For me, writing is a lot like reading, just more intense and greatly extended. If I have to force the characters to speak the result is often unsatisfying, but when I remember what they said it all flows much better.
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Old 01-27-2016, 11:25 AM   #2
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No responses huh? Guess it's just you then.

I've discussed or tried to discuss this on numerous forums and at in-person workshops. At first many are, "yes my characters do and say things that I would never imagine and I just write it down."

And then when I bring the Hearing Voices mental illness everyone goes silent.

In pursuing this discussion in a few places I've gotten further clarification -- well it's not really like they speak and I hear them, it's more like I imagine what they would say or alternatives and then write it down.

I think perhaps those that claim to actually have characters act independently and autonomously in their minds are actually doing a lot of unconscious processing that they are unaware of .... and/or perhaps they are a bit mentally ill.

Last edited by kennyc; 01-27-2016 at 11:28 AM.
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Old 01-29-2016, 02:01 AM   #3
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Yep, just me. I was just going to slink away into the corner and hope no one noticed.

I think the mental illness reference is a ... misdirection. People often say "see ya later", or "good talking to you", or "I hear you", in emails and letters, without being accused of being disrespectful to those that a blind, dumb or deaf.

Perhaps there are writers than seem to hear audible voices, but that's not my usual interpretation when I read of writers "hearing voices". I read that as a figure of speech, or a shortened form of "it is like I have heard the voices in my head". Perhaps I am content to interpret it that way because that is the way it seems to me.

And, yes, it often does feel like it came from somewhere else. The image or the words sometimes seem to appear in my mind like a memory of an experience or hearing someone speak. (Or, as I suggested in my first post, very much like reading a good book where everything seems very real.) It was a vivid "memory" like this that drove my first published novel - the story that evolved into a trilogy all came (eventually) as an explanation for the opening scene (the start of chapter 1, not the prologue).

But, however it may feel at the time, I am not of a mystic inclination, so I have other explanations. Most of the time I can feel quite certain that these false flashes of memory (and I recognise them as false) come from spending so much time immersing myself in the characters and scenes that I can reasonably justify them as the work of my subconscious mind. A few (like the scene alluded to above) are less easily explained, but daydreams and waking dreams are not uncommon experiences and need no mystical explanations.
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Old 01-29-2016, 01:14 PM   #4
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I agree with you Geoff. Obviously we put the words in the mouths of our characters. They, their actions and their words all come from our brains. Invoking mystical intervention is reaching, and it's an unnecessary complication. When we say, "I follow my characters around and write down what they do," we're using shorthand for the process of putting them in the situations we need them to be in, and saying the things we need them to say.

Given that, just as we visualize the settings, so we "audiolize" the dialog. I don't think it's going too far to say that I can "see" what they're doing and "hear" what they're saying. And I don't think it's a contradiction to say that it's all the product of my imagination. I'm just thankful that my imagination can present the results to me in a coherent and nearly finished condition, and I can write down the dialog as if, as you say, I'm "remembering" it.
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Old 01-29-2016, 02:18 PM   #5
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Well, seeing as I've asked this question and discussed it many times over the last quarter century I have to respectfully disagree in that many of the writers literally say the characters act, speak, etc. on their own.

This is not the case with me and with many writers who have to work hard, try various words, sentences, actions, etc all the time evaluating what would be 'in character' and then building it into the story.

I'm also quite familiar with the mental illness where people literally hear voices which again is not me, but is a condition of family. As best I can tell there is a fine line between the two. I suspect they are rooted in the same mental processes for those writers that do claim to literally have characters act and speak on their own.

In some ways I wish my characters were like this, it would certainly make the writing easier.
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Old 01-29-2016, 03:46 PM   #6
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There is a hypothesized condition called aphantasia where people can't visualize things. They apparently have no mind's eye. So I guess there's a spectrum for it, with people at either extreme. That would allow for people who can just follow their characters around and describe what they do. As you say, they might be just short of a condition where they don't realize that it's not real.
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Old 01-29-2016, 03:48 PM   #7
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Ah, so that's my problem.
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Old 01-29-2016, 05:17 PM   #8
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I can't imagine that.
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Old 01-29-2016, 05:22 PM   #9
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There is a hypothesized condition called aphantasia where people can't visualize things. They apparently have no mind's eye. So I guess there's a spectrum for it, with people at either extreme. That would allow for people who can just follow their characters around and describe what they do. As you say, they might be just short of a condition where they don't realize that it's not real.
My mind's eye is legally blind.

I don't know what the experience of 'seeing' things in one's mind is like bar an confused impression of color (which is rarely correct). As for remembering images (such as faces) my recall is nonexistent but my recognition isn't bad. I can't just look at an image and remember it. I must look, think, categorize and then I may able to construct a description later (although I have a strong tendency to leave out details other people think obvious).

Interestingly, I can feel things with my mind's 'skin' very clearly, which is occasionally disconcerting as I will automatically translate sight into touch and end up with tactile impressions of things I've never actually touched.

This has not interfered one bit with my enjoyment of fiction or my tendency to dream up stories for myself BTW.

My hubby on the other hand can, if he chooses, see something that isn't there (the example he used was 'seeing' one of our cats on the dashboard of our car). I think the critical point is 'if he chooses'.

If I choose I can feel the warmth and weight of an imaginary cat on my lap including the vibration of its purring but I assure you that I'm in no danger of believing in invisible cats.
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Old 01-29-2016, 06:49 PM   #10
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My mind's eye is legally blind.

...

Interestingly, I can feel things with my mind's 'skin' very clearly, which is occasionally disconcerting as I will automatically translate sight into touch and end up with tactile impressions of things I've never actually touched.

...

If I choose I can feel the warmth and weight of an imaginary cat on my lap including the vibration of its purring but I assure you that I'm in no danger of believing in invisible cats.
You have synesthesia. Is sight-touch the only one, or do you have other minglings?

Good thing you know the imaginary cat's not real, eh?
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Old 01-30-2016, 09:00 AM   #11
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[...]This is not the case with me and with many writers who have to work hard, try various words, sentences, actions, etc all the time evaluating what would be 'in character' and then building it into the story.[...]
I should point out that, for me anyway, it is not a matter of the entire story being written from these flashes of false memory. They are, most often, just flashes, not contiguous scenes. ... Although, when things are going really well, the dialogue almost seems to write itself, but it's not something I can rely on. And even when things have gone well, there is still a lot of the work you describe making sure everything is right. Memory is not always reliable, and the characters sometimes get side-tracked and waffle on more than they should (I wonder where they get that from ).
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Old 01-30-2016, 09:10 AM   #12
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I should point out that, for me anyway, it is not a matter of the entire story being written from these flashes of false memory. They are, most often, just flashes, not contiguous scenes. ... Although, when things are going really well, the dialogue almost seems to write itself, but it's not something I can rely on. And even when things have gone well, there is still a lot of the work you describe making sure everything is right. Memory is not always reliable, and the characters sometimes get side-tracked and waffle on more than they should (I wonder where they get that from ).
Understood.
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Old 01-30-2016, 12:47 PM   #13
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I should point out that, for me anyway, it is not a matter of the entire story being written from these flashes of false memory. They are, most often, just flashes, not contiguous scenes. ... Although, when things are going really well, the dialogue almost seems to write itself, but it's not something I can rely on. And even when things have gone well, there is still a lot of the work you describe making sure everything is right. Memory is not always reliable, and the characters sometimes get side-tracked and waffle on more than they should (I wonder where they get that from ).
Exactly. Otherwise we'd be stenographers, not writers.
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Old 02-01-2016, 10:32 AM   #14
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For me, it's not about hearing voices but rather relying on my intuition. I'm very focused during the writing process and hear nothing. When I re-read my texts I get the feeling if this works or not. Maybe it's stupid but I decided to share it with you anyway.
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Old 02-01-2016, 11:48 PM   #15
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For me, it's not about hearing voices but rather relying on my intuition. I'm very focused during the writing process and hear nothing. When I re-read my texts I get the feeling if this works or not. Maybe it's stupid but I decided to share it with you anyway.
For me, the process is longer. After the "Polish" step I have a "Put it Aside" step. I walk away and do other things for a substantial period of time -- sometimes for a month, sometimes for several months, sometimes longer. I let it get cold, so I can read it with "fresh eyes."

Then I go back to the "Review" and "Revise" steps.

It takes a while.
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