3 Ways to Avoid Being Driven Mad by Your Characters

You know you’re a writer when…a number of fictional characters (who may or may not have names) start having a conversation in your head that you are only invited to observe.

I find that this happens especially often when I don’t have a pen, iPad, computer or other writing device at my disposal to record what is being said.

Sometimes, I have to accept that I won’t be recording these conversations verbatim. Other times, I make mental notes and do my best to reconstruct dialogues from memory (with varying levels of success).

Occasionally, this feels like I am going mad. After all, how does society generally label people who regularly hear voices in their heads?

Oh yeah, that would be INSANE!

Twinkle twinkle little bat, how I wonder where you’re at. Up…

The Mad Hatter, Dormouse, The March Hare
Alice in Wonderland (2010); film script

Now, how do we, as writers, harness the power of the internal fictional dialogues and monologues into something fit for the written page – preferably without going crazy in the process?

I have come up with three top tips that have worked for me to date. As I said in one of my former posts, I spend a large amount of time commuting on the train.

Whilst this can be bliss when inspiration hits (and provided I have my iPad handy), it can be HELL if I leave my iPad at home or if the battery runs out in the middle of my commute back home at the end of the day.

There is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger! Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter.

The Mad Hatter
Alice in Wonderland (2010); film script

So, here is my 3 hopefully helpful suggestions for keeping sane whilst listening to the conversations of your fictional characters:

1.  Always, always always carry pen and paper

Ok, this one is a no-brainer. But let me tell you, it’s also the most commonly made mistake by writers. Because technology is only great as long as a charged battery, or plug socket are in reach, I have learned my lesson and now also always carry a notebook and a pen. If disaster hits and technology becomes unavailable, you can still carry on writing recording what your characters are talking about – taking the voices in your head and dumping them all out on paper. Works wonders in terms of avoiding overwhelm and silencing the chatter in your head…at least for a little while.   

2. Take charge of the voices in your head

Don’t let your fictional characters rule your mind. It’s your mind after all. Your characters may live there but at the end of the day they’re your tenants and you’re their landlord. You make the rules. If your characters are in breach of the creativity agreement (that’s what I like to call the contract-type agreement which exists in my head), give them a firm warning and feel free to kick out any serial offenders (at least for a while) until they come back for a second chance at living by the rules.

3. Tell everyone to shut up!

Enough is enough sometimes. When your brain is full of stuff to do with the real world it might well be that you just don’t have the capacity to take in what the people in your made-up worlds are wanting to talk about. When I get into that state of mind, there is a 0-tolerance policy in place for the fictional chatter of the non-existent minds: They have to SHUT UP!!!! Easier said than done, I grant, but you would be surprised what an episode of Doctor Who and a nice bowl of ice cream can do to create distance between your functional and your creative brain. Once you’ve managed to get yourself a break from it all, you can focus again. Works for me.


Any other cunning strategies to avoid mutating from writer to Mad Hatter – let me know in the comments below.

Image Attribution:By Oleg Lipchenko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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