Listen to Your Characters

Outtakes 205

Listen to Your Characters

by Cait Collins


Some folks think I’m crazy when I tell them that I talk to my characters and they answer me. Truth is I’m quite sane. I get some of my best ideas just carrying on a conversation with a character in my story. It goes something like this.

“So, Chad, you’ve found a new girlfriend. What’s she like? Who are her people? What does she do? What’s her name?”

Chad responds. “Well, she’s cute. Not heart-stopping beautiful, but cute. And she’s funny. She tells the best jokes. Have you heard the one about…?” Okay, you’re not in the mood for jokes. She’s a teacher. High school English. Beth. Her name is Beth. My girl’s a great educator. Beth teaches some of the old stuff like conjugating verbs and diagramming sentences.

‘Her folks died in an auto accident and Beth raised her sister, Amy. The kid graduates in the spring and plans to study law at Harvard. I guess you want to know how Amy can go to Harvard when her guardian is a school teacher. Well, the folks were pretty well off. They set up trust funds for the girls, but Beth is as frugal as her Scots ancestors. Anyway, we’re planning a trip to the Highlands after Amy graduates.”

In a short conversation, I’ve learned the girl friend’s name, she has a good sense of humor, her ancestors are from Scotland, her occupation, and future plans. But I didn’t ask where everyone lived.

“I bet you don’t know how to find the Old North Church. The one of Paul Revere fame. One if by land; two if by sea. After her folks died, the girls moved here, to Denver. It’s got to be real strange to wake up with the mountains instead of the ocean.”

As you can see, my conversations with Chad garnered useful information. And it’s better than talking to myself.