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Dear Auntie MJ, recently one of my best friends has started treating me like I’m insane because I talk about my characters as though they’re real people. How do I explain to him that I understand the line between fiction and reality but I like ignoring it and that I’d rather be crazy than bored or boring, without alienating him further?

Dear saidreadertorider,

Joss Whedon once said: “There’s a time and place for everything, and I believe it’s called ‘fan fiction’.” J.W. always speaks the truth.

On day 29 of NaNoWriMo, it’s time to start discussing the state of your brain.

You have come to Auntie MJ with a question, and it is Auntie MJ’s responsibility to tell you the truth as she knows it. And Auntie MJ says this as someone who often seems a few pieces of toast short of a toast loaf … when you start talking about your characters like they are real, people get annoyed. And for good reason. They aren’t.

And trust me, Auntie MJ knows you know that, and she certainly sympathizes, but … they still aren’t. When you talk about them to other people, it annoys them because you are talking about people they don’t know. You are talking about people who are members of a very exclusive club, one that meets IN YOUR BRAIN. It’s like namedropping, with an added dose of, “Maybe you should be on some medication.”

Sometimes, our imaginary friends become a big part of our life.

I say this as a friend, saidreadertorider, and as a professional. If I went around talking about all my characters like they were real, two things would happen:

1. People would punch me in the face everywhere I went.

2. No one would want to work with me, because I would be “insane.”

Quirky is fine. A quirky writer is expected, even welcomed. But insane writers are generally to be avoided. So if you plan on Going Pro, this is definitely a habit to drop.

And I’ll give you another, better reason … when you start getting friendly with your characters, it becomes harder to make them do what they need to do. You need to make your characters do unpleasant things sometimes. Ugly things. You need to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes, you need to kill them. And if you are fraternizing with them in the off-hours, this becomes hard.

It’s actually good to reserve a place where you can just BE with the characters. That place is when you are working on the story, either physically, or just in your mind. It’s okay to imagine them as you are doing things. And hey, if you want to keep doing this, Auntie MJ is the last person who is going to stop you. Auntie MJ runs a home for five hundred imaginary wayward hamsters, after all. But this is her advice on the subject, which you can take or leave at your pleasure.


Auntie MJ

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Posted: Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 @ 10:29 pm
Categories: advice, ask mj, nanowrimo, writing.
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  1. Christopher Says:

    I’ve never talked about my characters as if they’re real people, but I have confused events in my story with real events. Usually I can catch myself, but it’s often after a look of horror start to come across the listener’s face.

    Probably doesn’t help that my writing tends to contain stuff like yetis, ghosts, zombies, and mail men. Stuff that most people don’t think exist, and I usually don’t either once I get my morning coffee and a nice stiff whack from my wife. Either way, it does risk me falling into the land of insane rather than quirky.

  2. Tessara Says:

    My NaNovel is a fanfic, so I can talk about my characters as though they were real around my friends (who are all writers) because they have familiarity with the characters already and are interested in how my plot diverges from the story they know. This is an exception, though I generally agree with the whole “don’t discuss your characters as thought they were real” thing. Unless, I suppose, you are a famous author, like JK Rowling.

  3. Orla-Jo Says:

    I not only love the nerdfightastic correctness of your blog but that you used a picture of Cary Grant from Arsenic and Old Lace in it which makes you so awesome its insane. I take my hat off to you friend.

  4. Orla-Jo Says:

    Actually that was meant for the blog after this one though I am now seeing Jimmy Stewart from Harvey and the message remains the same.

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