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Authors Hearing Characters' Voices

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If you’re interested in writing, have tried in the past or maybe not at all, I encourage you to just simply begin with whatever comes to mind. Writing is a wonderful tool for self-discovery as well as the experience to place yourself in different people’s shoes.  Just like the favorite characters from your favorite books, they will soon become as real to you as anyone!

New research has reported that writers actually experience their characters in audio-sensory ways, such as being able to hear their characters’ voices in their heads even in the face of the writer’s own inner voice.

This auditory imagery happens each time you read and can be related to your own inner speech including how you perceive and imagine other dialogues.  What separates the reader from the writer is that writers feel that the speech of their characters and of their own selves can overlap to the point where there is no discernment between the two.  Or, sometimes, the voices become so real they directly interact with the characters they’ve created and hear the voices as clearly as they hear real, embodied people in the room.

To study this relationship between fictitious characters and the writers’ voices, writers and storytellers were surveyed in a 4-part study which included 181 writers from genres such as adult and young adult fiction, non-fiction, poetry, play writing or theatrical performance writing, and oral storytelling.  The survey included questions that compared if the writers heard their characters voices and what makes them different from other voices that they might hear in the room such as their own voice or actual people’s voices.  It also asked if they hear the voice of their characters and if the characters act autonomously, as if they have a life of their own which directs where they go in the story.

The second part of the survey cross checked for overactive imaginations, such as the existence of current or childhood imaginary friends.  It focused on whether the imaginary friends seemed to do what they wanted or if they were directed by the person experiencing them.

The third part of the survey investigated how the authors’ inner speech functions inside their head, independent of hearing other voices or characters’ voices.

The last part of the survey cross checked all of the experiences with a scale which measured the risk of auditory hallucinations, which, considering all the nature of the questionnaire, was a necessary part of controlling the study.

The researchers found that 63% of writers hear their characters’ voices in their own heads which include distinct tones, voices, and patterns.  And 56% of authors felt that they can see their characters visually, and 11% of authors felt a presence associated with their characters, as if they know them and feel them in peripheral vision or the atmosphere of the room.

Only a very small amount of people could not differentiate between their characters’ voices in their heads and the voices of real people in the room with them.  Usually, the authors reported that they could tell the voices were different than their own (33% of those surveyed), and 15% of the authors felt that they could speak directly to a character.

This study is very detailed and has a lot of information that writers and prospective writers will find interesting.  Read this lengthy study here to learn how the authors feel about whether their characters have their own will and how they experience their characters’ evolutions—and don’t forget to just start writing!


Foxwell, John et al. “'I've learned I need to treat my characters like people': Varieties of agency and interaction in Writers' experiences of their Characters' Voices.” Consciousness and cognition vol. 79 (2020): 102901. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2020.102901


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