My latest Locus column is "Where Characters Come From," and it advances a neurological theory for why fiction works, and where writers find their characters.
As a writer, I know that there’s a point in the writing when the engine of the story really seems to roar to life, and at that moment, the characters start feeling like real people. When you start working on a story, the characters are like finger-puppets, and putting words into their mouths is a bit embarrassing, like you’re sitting at your desk waggling your hands at one another and making them speak in funny, squeaky voices. But once those characters ‘‘catch,’’ they become people, and writing them feels more like you’re recounting something that happened than something you’re making up. This reality also extends to your autonomic nervous system, which will set your heart racing when your characters face danger, make you weepy at their tragedies, has you grinning foolishly at their victories.
In some ways, this is even weirder. For a writer to trick himself into feeling emotional rapport for the imaginary people he himself invented seems dangerous, akin to a dealer who starts dipping into the product. Where does this sense of reality – this physical, limbic reaction to inconsequential non-events – spring from?
Where Characters Come From
A small (51 men aged 24 +/- 3 years) study published in Neuron tasked experimental subjects with practicing the ancient Greek mnemonic technique of “memory palaces” and then scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging, comparing the scans to scans from competitive “memory athletes” and also measuring their performance on memorization tasks.
University of Western Ontario researchers examined the electrical activity in several patients before and after their life support was turned off and they were declared clinically dead, when the heart had stopped beating. In one patient, brain waves, in the form of single delta wave bursts, continued for minutes after death. “It is difficult to […]
Can you “hear” motion or light flashes? If so, according to new research from City University London, you may be experiencing a not-so-rare form of synaesthesia. Synesthesia is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. For example, a synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. (In this study, […]
Thread count isn’t like one of those deceiving metrics like camera megapixels or Facebook friends—more threads are always better if you can afford them. If price was no object, we would all be snoozing soundly bundled up in 1.8 kilo-thread sheets every single night. Guess what? Price doesn’t have to be an object with this […]
Maybe it’s entirely because of podcast ads, but drag-and-drop tools like Squarespace have gotten immensely popular in recent years. While it’s definitely a great tool for any non-coders who want to get a small website up and running quickly, managing content with a primarily visual interface can become a pain once you have more than […]
When you can’t wait for the world’s longest meeting to end, the mindless leg bouncing makes your boredom obvious and just annoys everybody else. Everyone knows the TPS reports need the damn cover sheet, but some sadistic colleague keeps forgetting, probably on purpose just to eat into your lunch hour. Enough is enough!While serving a […]