Multiple Personality Disorder or…Letting Characters Tell the Story

June 3, 2011

I don’t remember the first book I fell in love with. I just know that as soon as I could read I loved books, words, phrases and sentences. Anything with words became my obsession.

I was born in Los Angeles but spent most of my childhood until my freshman year of high school in Uniontown, Ohio, a town that even now has a population of about 3,000. Long cold winters and sultry rural summers only contributed to this obsession.

We didn’t have a library in Uniontown, so all school year long when the bookmobile came to our school from the Canton Public Library, I would check out stacks of books, devouring anything I could get my hands on. When there was nothing around to read, I read the dictionary, the yellow pages, several versions of the Bible and eventually the romance novels my mother left lying around—and Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln, because it was there and I needed to read.

When there was nothing to read, I began writing. I hated running out of reading material, but eventually, it was even worse to run out of notebook paper and sharpened pencils….and eventually 10-cent Bic pens. (They were pennies a pen back then.)

I don’t know for sure, but I think I remember the first time characters and a story took over my mind. I was in fifth grade, and I can remember being distracted in class by the story happening in my head. This wouldn’t do. I was an honor roll student. There was a long bus ride to and from the middle school in Hartville, and I remember being annoyed when a friend sat next to me on the bus….and horrors, actually wanted to talk to me! I couldn’t be bothered to talk. I was in the world in my head. Please don’t interrupt and bring me back to the real world. (I didn’t tell people this. I just thought it.) I’m sure that there were people in my small town that thought I was possessed or at least very strange. Maybe they just thought I was daydreaming.

My pencil scribbled stories that characters dictated across pages of wide ruled notebook paper. I spent hours in my room at my little white French provincial desk from Sears that matched my canopy bed (where I read) and the white French provincial dresser. Dolls from around the world watched from the shelves over my desk as I, oblivious to my perfect little girl’s room, wrote…and wrote…and read.

As an adult it was years of non-fiction writing. I forgot about the stories and characters whose worlds would come to life and make me forget about the real world around me. Then when my boys were little something happened. There was a character in my head that refused to go unheard. Angella. Late at night when my three little boys had finally gone to sleep, I would write in a frenzy. (I’ve told this story in a post about plotting, so if you’ve heard it bare with me.) Angella’s story poured onto the pages. My husband, Paul would come home asking for the pages from the previous night—how he could read that scribbled manuscript I don’t know, but he did. One night he fell asleep on the sofa while I wrote. At 2 a.m. he woke up and asked “Honey, aren’t you ready to go to bed yet?” My pen never stopped. I just said, “I can’t. Angella’s not done yet.”

I hand wrote about five hundred pages of Angella’s story before life got in the way. Over the years I’ve had other character’s fill my head and borrow my pen, but with all of the excuses (Elley wrote about yesterday) that life can throw at you, I’ve never allowed them free reign again.

The last two weeks, as I’ve taken over my life again and allowed myself to fully slip into my character’s world for hours every day, I realized that I had been doing this since I was no more than ten. I had forgotten about the people in my head, how real their stories could be for me and how often my mother would say, “Tari stop day dreaming and listen to me!” If only she’d known. She probably would have taken me to a psychiatrist.

I’m glad she didn’t. My problem isn’t multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, drugs or alcohol…although I do like a glass of wine now and then. I’m not possessed or channeling demons. In fact there’s no problem at all. I’m simply a writer.

I know I’m not alone out there. When I tell people I write I rarely tell them that the characters in my head tell me their story, although, here I am telling all of you. Most of the time I let them think I “make-up” stories. Paul, however, likes to tell people the story about Angella, and I’m pretty sure some people think I’m crazy. I’ve noticed that occasionally when he tells the story at a writer’s meeting (Yes, he likes to come with me!) someone else will say the same thing happens to them.

So what do you think? Am I insane? Does this happen to you when you write? If it does, how old were you the first time you remember characters telling you their story?

One Response to “Multiple Personality Disorder or…Letting Characters Tell the Story”

  1. I don’t remember a specific character, but I do remember “movies” in my head when I was in middle school. My father was a high school hockey coach, and as we traveled from state to state for tournaments and games, I would press my head against the car door and create stories that matched the music on the radio. Each song was a scene for the same few characters. Since most songs are about love and heartbreak, my early years were spent dreaming up stories or “music videos” that amounted to romances.

    I enjoyed doing this so much, I fell asleep every night to my radio playing love songs as I watched scene after scene play in my head.

    I still do this now…only I write about what I see while I’m listening to music. 🙂


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