on The Conversation:
Many famous writers claim it’s the characters who actually drive the plot, create the dialogue, and essentially “do their own thing” in the novels they write.
To investigate this phenomenon, we ran a survey at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2014 and 2018, asking writers how they experienced their characters. Over 60% of the 181 participants said they heard their characters’ voices, and over 60% said their characters sometimes acted of their own accord. Some authors even said they could enter into dialogue with their characters and that their characters sometimes “talked back” and argued with them.
These writers were often fairly explicit that all of these experiences were imaginary. But writers also talked about being “surprised” by what their characters said and did – even sometimes laughing because of the jokes their characters told. This brings up questions around control and “agency”, since these writers did not always feel as if they were consciously deciding what happened in the narrative.