When Characters Come to Visit…

Over the past six months, my house has gotten a lot more crowded.

At one time, our household consisted of me, my husband, and the three dachshunds. Lately, a lot of freeloaders have begun showing up. I can barely move from room to room without bumping into one of them. It’s like this: once the word gets out that the welcome mat is at the front door, everyone and their uncle suddenly appears.

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And every one of them has something they have to say, some problem they feel the need to lay at your feet, some confession they are dying (sometimes literally) to tell you.

That’s what happens when you’re a good listener.

Take last night, for example.

I was sitting in bed, trying to watch the Orioles game. I was also looking at the laptop, scrolling through writing prompt suggestions. One caught my eye, but then Adam Jones got up to bat and – well – so much for the writing prompt. But once Adam struck out, I noticed there was a lean, hard-faced man sitting on the edge of the bed.

I turned to my husband. “You see him?” I asked.

He looked at me, then at the ceiling, and sighed. “Oh Lord, not again.”

Okay, he didn’t see him. But I did. And while my husband watched the game, the man suddenly started talking to me, telling me about the woman he had been married to, and how she’d been no good – and that he’d been forced to teach her some hard justice.

After he unburdened his soul, he stood up and pointed at the laptop. I got the message and started typing as he turned and walked out of the room.

Lately, this kind of thing happens more often than not.

This evening I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, and I noticed a pretty woman standing near the counter. I could tell right away she was from a different time – it was in the way she spoke, the clothes she wore. And while I continued cleaning the kitchen, she began talking about the various kinds of horror a person might have to endure in a lifetime, and what her own special experience had been.

By the time the kitchen was clean, she’d gone out to the back porch to sit for a spell, making it clear that if I needed some additional information, she was available. As for me, I made a few quick notes and hope to tell her story at a future point in time.

It’s disconcerting sometimes, the way these folks just suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Disconcerting when they appear out of nowhere - especially the scary ones!

Disconcerting when they appear out of nowhere – especially the scary ones!

Two weeks ago, I was drinking my coffee and enjoying the early morning solitude. It was a nice day, and the window screens were letting in the fresh air. Just as I was about to take the last sip of my coffee, a car went barreling down the road outside the front of my house, a Chuck Berry tune issuing loudly from the vehicle and rattling the windows: Maybelline, why can’t you be true? Ah, Maybelline, why can’t you be true?

Annoyed at having my quiet morning interrupted, I wandered into the kitchen to refill my mug – and was surprised to see a blond-haired woman dancing around the room with a young girl in tow, both of them barefoot and laughing – and singing about Maybelline.

Before I could ask what they were doing in my kitchen, the woman smiled and pushed her thick, blond hair out of her mascaraed eyes and said, “Hi, I’m Jolene – and this is my baby girl. Got a few minutes to listen to our story?” The young girl looked at me with shining, hopeful eyes.

How could I resist? I poured myself that second cup of coffee, sat down at the kitchen table, and listened to a tale of sadness and longing.

That’s how my stories begin: chance meetings with characters who want to share something of their lives and experiences with me.

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I’ve found that once you open the door to one of them, the rest of them start showing up with regularity. They’re a talkative bunch, too. Maybe they like a sympathetic ear. I can’t help but wonder if my people haven’t been hanging around for years, waiting for me to finally lay out the welcome mat.  Maybe they’ve been bottling up their tales for what seems like forever, just waiting for me to pay attention, and now they can’t restrain themselves.

I don’t need a Ouija Board to make contact with ghosts from another realm. I just need my laptop – and an open mind, a willing ear and, maybe, an understanding heart.

Although I like to write a supernatural tale now and again,  I’m not one to really believe in ghost stories or tales of possession.  Even so, I do sometimes feel as if my people have invaded my life and, sometimes, my very being.

I hear their ‘voices’ so distinctly.  I find myself speaking aloud in their dialects, using their phrasing, mimicking their expressions, their tics. Sometimes my husband will hear me speaking in a country accent worthy of Andy Taylor of Mayberry fame. Poor man, I’m sure he thinks he’s married to a crazy woman.

He’s not.

He’s married to a writer.

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When my characters come to visit, I’m no longer just ‘me.’ I am them. Completely. I’m Jolene. I’m the guy who dumped his wife and her lover into a hastily dug burial plot. I’m the kid who had a chance encounter with an old homeless guy who just may have been an angel.  I’m the old woman who feared not only the monsters under her bed, but the ones living in her town.  And I’m also the slug who wanted to dump his girlfriend’s dog out in the middle of the desert – until a UFO gave the dog an unusual talent…

I am all of them – and, perhaps, them more than I am me.

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One thing I know: life has sure gotten a lot more interesting since these folks started showing up. The place has gotten a bit noisier, either from their voices or the constant click of my fingernails against the keypad of my laptop. And while I may complain from time to time about their insistent, sometimes distracting, presence, I’m really glad they’ve decided to pay me a visit.

The welcome mat is out, the house is clean, there’s an apple pie in the oven. The laptop is warmed up, and there’s a blank screen waiting to record someone’s story.

In other words, I’m ready to receive callers.

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About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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38 Responses to When Characters Come to Visit…

  1. RAM says:

    I can relate…

  2. LOL! So true! Great post! 😀

  3. naomiharvey says:

    I am not too bad with the writing crazies at the moment. I might respond out loud to my inner monologue but that’s it. I have, however, been reliably informed by Mr Musgrave that it’s only gonna get worse and I should get used to it. 😀

    • Kate Loveton says:

      You should definitely listen to Mr. Musgrave. You’ve read his fiction, Naomi – that man has some seriously strange characters visiting him! He definitely has the welcome mat out considering how many cool stories he came up with during the A-Z fiction challenge.

      Let me know when you go over the edge, and start speaking in your characters’ voices, Naomi! 🙂

  4. Lucy says:

    Oh, dear, and I thought I was a bit touched. My roommate knows when I’m in character by my accents. I do Southern, British, Russian, whatever. A friend of her son’s came over and heard me talking in a couple of different accents and asked my RM if I was schizo. RM just told her I was blogging again. Phew. I’m not nuts. Lucy

    • Kate Loveton says:

      I think all writers are a little off! I mean, hey, we see and hear imaginary people in our heads! Some hearing talking dogs – or at least telepathic ones (I’m blaming this entirely on Thain in Vain due to her prompt about pets with odd abilities!).

      🙂

      I’m glad to know you’re as UN nuts as me, Lucy! (grin)

  5. Julia Lund says:

    I saw this post reblogged on Kathy’s site. Love it! So visual and vivid. When a line crashes into my life (it’s usually voices I hear …) I have to drop everything, often literally, and grab the nearest writing implement. It’s as though, if I don’t grab the opportunity to record the whisper there and then, whoever comes calling won’t bother waiting around for my convenience. I can’t wait to meet some of the characters you’ve met.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Julia – I understand about the need for a writing implement. I take a small pad with me wherever I go, and often jot down little things that occur to me.

      I visited your blog – I loved your story about the bereaved widow. Beautiful.

      • Julia Lund says:

        Thank you. I have seen the comment you left. As for writing implements, I have pencil cases full in each handbag. I also have innumerable notebooks, though I have been known to scribble on old till receipts, backs of envelopes; you name it, I’ve written on it!

  6. Pingback: TTT – The Importance of Beta-Readers | Chris Musgrave - Writer in Training

  7. W. K. Tucker says:

    Reblogged this on W. K. Tucker and commented:
    Excellent post of peeking inside a writer’s mind. 😊

  8. W. K. Tucker says:

    Kate, I absolutely loved this piece! Characters visit me too–though in my case, usually when I’m in the shower, brushing my teeth, putting on makeup, anything I’m doing while running on automatic. I think they lurk around the edges of space, looking for people like us who will listen to their woes.
    I also loved the various visual quotes you used. Do you mind if I borrow them for future use on my Facebook page?
    Once again, you did a fantastic job of telling it like it is for most fiction writers. 😊
    Kathy

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Kathy, thanks for the kind words! Sometimes my characters will show up while I’m in the shower, too (good thing I’m not the modest type!).

      Seriously, I think you’re on to something, though. It does seem when I’m on automatic pilot that my mind starts wandering and – suddenly – a character pops into my head. I was driving home from having visited my mother this evening, and a new ‘visitor’ showed up in the seat next to me. She told me a bit of her story, but she’s kind of shy; she’s still thinking about whether she’s going to share the rest. But I think I can get it out of her with a little perseverance!

      You certainly are welcome to use the quotes on your Facebook page. 🙂

  9. Great post Kate!

    I love the way you described many of the feelings that I get when writing too. It seems as if the last couple of years has seen an invasion of voices and characters all wanting their story to be told.

    I adore Doctorow’s quote about writing being an acceptable form of schizophrenia and I think that, although humorous in its intent, there is a lot of truth in that statement.

    I have just one concern though, if all these characters are at your house, will you still have room for me when I come to visit? 😆 ❤

  10. You make me wish I was receiving visitors. How delightful. I wish my characters would drop in on me!

  11. Deb says:

    I am intrigued. Do you actually hear and see spirits as a medium would, or are these characters for your writings? Sorry to be so gullible.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Deb, no actual spirits – that was just me, stretching a truth. But I do ‘hear’ characters (not spirits) in my head. I hear their voices, cadences of their speech, that sort of thing. But I don’t think I’m unique in that regard; I bet most writers experience that. 🙂

      • Deb says:

        Either way, spirits or characters, that is so interesting! I have not developed that process yet. Perhaps I need to put out the welcome mat!

  12. Mariam Tsaturyan says:

    Thank you so much for following me! I just looked at your blog, and I have to say your introduction section of your blog made me smile. It sounds very similar to my situation. I followed you as well. I am super sleepy now, but I will check out your pieces tomorrow once I am alert enough. 🙂

  13. Haha! Me, too. Your guests seem super interesting, however. 🙂

  14. I’m so glad someone else wanders around the house talking to those strangers whose lives we writers co-opt – now I can prove to my husband that I’m not the only one!

  15. Ha ha ha. Love experiencing it with you in the retelling, feeling your very happy process.

  16. Would that I had that problem. Maybe one day.

  17. Awesome post. It happens to me all the time.

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