“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia” E L Doctorow
I did wonder whether it was safe to admit that I hear my characters talking in my head and assume their personalities when I write them. I suppose it’s all about how you actually say it!
I was in a little shop in Whitby (yes, the Whitby, it’s not far from where I live really) and someone asked what I was getting. I replied “thtuff” in a deep, dopey but enthusiastic voice. The woman behind the counter heard and looked at me strangely. I looked at her, grinned and said “sorry, that’s just the dog’s voice in my head”. Silence, tumbleweed, was that the sound of ambulance sirens?
What I should have said was “that’s the way I imagine my dog would talk if she could” but no, I had to make myself sound as unhinged as possible. I paid and left quite quickly then waited until I was a distance from the shop before howling with laughter.
I do attribute voices to characters as I imagine them. My dog was actually the smartest dog I’ve ever met and an incredible judge of character. I really wish I’d listened to her about the builder – she was right! To my mind her voice was quite deep because her bark was big and she spoke bluntly and with an innocence that made her sound quite dopey. She also had a lisp. No creature with a tongue that could lick your face at fifty paces could fail to have a lisp. She therefore liked thocks and thoap and thponges and thtuff. It became a common thing among friends and family to refer to thtuff in the dog’s imaginary speaking voice. It was perfectly acceptable for me to say that to a complete stranger “it’s just the dog’s voice in my head”. Only it wasn’t really acceptable, was it?!
I’m laughing just thinking about the Whitby incident. It sprang to mind the minute I read this quote. As a writer I create characters in every detail inside my head and then project them onto the page. They have conversations in my head (not with me, with each other). That may well tap in to the same areas of the brain that conjure up voices to the schizophrenic. It might be schizophrenia itself safely channelled.
I admit I’m neurotic, I admit sometimes even mildly psychotic (in a non-violent think it but don’t do it sort of way). The difference between me and the person that looks at me funny is that I don’t try to pretend that my brain does nothing unusual. I write it all down, call it my art, and no-one bats an eyelid. I say it to someone and that makes me weird, maybe slightly dangerous, definitely to be watched, possibly even sedated.
Where is the line drawn between schizophrenic and creative? If a schizophrenic were given the means to write would they create the most amazing characters ever written? If they’d written all their lives, would the characters have stayed on the paper instead of usurping the mind of the creator?
This quote means so much to me on so many levels. I can laugh at myself and understand why people might give me a wide berth when I come out with things like the dog’s voice in my head. I bet those same people do very little in their lives that’s creative and passionately so. Food for thought. I wonder what the dog would have said?