Falling in Love with Characters in Cars

Don't worry. I always keep my eyes on the road during this process. Kids, don't try this home. Professional writer on a closed track.

Don’t worry. I always keep my eyes on the road during this process. Kids, don’t try this home. Professional writer on a closed track.

An interesting post by Martin Crosbie on Indies Unlimited this week spurred a few thoughts about my own relationships with my fictional characters.

When I’m writing, they have to feel real to me, as real as someone who might walk into the room and sit beside me. I have to fall in love. Or at least find some empathy. So I get pretty deep with that universe of people in my head. Over the years, I’ve taken a few of my writing teachers’ suggestions for ways to get to know these folks better. Guided meditations. Creative visualization. Imagine the shoes the character is wearing. Imagine slipping into their bodies. Light a candle and invite them in, as one writer famously advised. Once I got over the “are you kidding me?” factor, some of those devices worked pretty well.

Lately, I’ve been taking my characters for car rides. I don’t know why it took me so long to try this. When I was a kid, we lived thirty minutes from almost everything. The car was the venue for parental face time, for solving problems, for just looking out the window and getting a break from the routine of school and homework and piano lessons and Girl Scout meetings. And now? Okay, I like NPR, but do I really need to listen to it every time I get behind the wheel? Allowing more silence into my life has opened up that mental bandwidth for the characters to start talking.

So when I need to go a little deeper with a character, I invite him or her to come along for the ride. “Invite” being the operative word. Some are more willing than others; some play their cards closer to their chests and require a trust zone, a safe space. Or just some time.

I might have fallen in love with Charlie, my last protagonist, when he flopped down in the rocking chair next to my computer and poured himself a virtual scotch. But my new guy, a surgical resident, likes to ride shotgun. He has to push the seat back to make room for his legs, and he advises me that I’m overdue for my next oil change, but he’s really good company. He was recalcitrant at first, but he grew more comfortable with me, and when early critiquers suggested the story needed more of him, that it would only make the readers feel more invested in his journey, he was happy to oblige. But only because he believed it would help others. And now I’m totally smitten.

I used to worry that other drivers would look at me strangely when I took my characters out for a spin, but I got over that. Most people probably think I’m talking on my (nonexistent) hands-free cell phone arrangement. Thank you, modern technology.

Have you fallen in love lately, while writing or reading?


Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. See what’s on sale this month here.

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9 thoughts on “Falling in Love with Characters in Cars

  1. acflory says:

    -grin- I enjoyed this post, Laurie, but I have to tell you that I’m the exact opposite; I have to work hard to keep my characters /out/ of the car. I’ve been known to drive my daughter to school – on a Saturday – while being immersed with a character and driving on auto. That pic of the car could be me!

    What annoys me is when ‘they’ won’t leave me alone in the car but refuse to show up when I’m sitting safely in front of my computer. :/

  2. Coffee2words says:

    I think for a little while I fell in love with your Charlie.
    However, my all time reading crush would have to be Lindsay Buroker’s, silent assassin, Sicarius. *swoon*
    Great post. It really got me thinking about how to delve further into my characters. I’d heard of the practice of writing down everything the character would have in their pocket, of course, that only works if your characters have pockets…

    • laurieboris says:

      Thank you, Coffee2words. I’ll have to investigate this character. 😉 Love the pockets exercise. I’ve done that one. I’m thinking about doing it with one of my characters now, with her purse, but I’m a little afraid of what I’ll find there.

  3. dvberkom says:

    Interesting ideas, Laurie. I’ll admit, I’ve got it easy since I’ve written several books in 2 series–I know both Kate and Leine pretty well, although they both have surprised me a bunch lately…I may have to use some of those suggestions when I’m fleshing out other characters. Heck, I could probably do it for both of the MCs and come up with some new stuff 🙂

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    I tend to take my characters on walks rather than driving, though if I’d turn my radio off like you do, they might make an appearance in the car too. Sometimes they show up in my dreams, but that creeps me out a bit. 😉

  5. Alannah Foley says:

    These days, I just surrender if my character ideas (or other oddments for my latest book) want to come flooding out in the middle of the night. Whenever I’m on a new project, I just have to know it’s inevitable that I’m going to be ‘disturbed’ at the most inconvenient of times! I even have to set up the spare bed so I don’t disturb my partner during that creative part of the process, because I don’t usually settle until several pages of notes are written. During the day, when I’m finally sitting at the computer, I have a nice pile of stuff to type up, and that keeps me going for quite some time. Yes, I get the same thing, too – the ideas strike at any time. I think when you’re swimming, though, Laurie, it must be a pain – I don’t know of any waterproof paper or device you can record your ideas on – you’ve just have to try and remember it all till you towelled yourself off.

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