It's funny this topic should pop back up, as I recently had a discussion with my husband about characters talking to you and writing the story. He said he'd never had anything like that happen and (until he read a writer blog saying "my characters never write things") felt vaguely that he wasn't a real writer because of it, and he was curious about the mechanics.
The "not a real writer" bit is certainly wrong. The way I see stories, there are four basic elements -- the building block ingredients, if you will -- to each: plot, setting, character, and style. We all have all four but for most of us there's one or two elements that stand out, the elements that drive the rest of the story. For my husband, and plenty of other writers, it's plot. The characters do what the plot demands. And this is fine: I love a good action story as much as anyone. But for me, it's character (and somewhat setting). I don't start with a series of events; I start with people and a world, and if I'm lucky, after I doodle around with them for a bit, the plot shows up. This isn't a more or less valid method of writing. It's just how I work.
As for the mechanics, I'm not sure I explained well even with a sympathetic audience and a lot of hand gestures, but I'll try.
It's not exactly true to say that the characters "talk" to you, or that they're writing the story. I am sane, or at least, sane enough to realize these are not actual people. They're my creations and I control them. But... not always consciously. A huge amount of the story-making process goes on below the conscious level for me. Getting stuff to pop up into my conscious mind is always a bit of a struggle (I have pages and pages of brainstorming that is, in essence, my conscious mind trying to force my subconscious to give up the goods), but when something does pop out of the mysterious depths, it's ten times better than what my conscious mind could make up. It has... depth, and roundness, and... argh, no words for this. It's a real
My conscious mind can construct a perfectly reasonable sequence of events, but only my subconscious can tell a story
That doesn't mean it's a good story. My subconscious writes, as it were, in shorthand, leaving huge gaps where my personal experience can fill in the details, filling in bits of story that don't particularly interest it with regurgitated stereotypes. So the conscious bit of writing, for me, is largely editing, trimming the bits where I've let characters ramble on and on into story-appropriate dialogue, filling in the blank spots so that it all makes sense to people outside
my head, catching the shortcuts and filling them in with something more interesting. When things are going smoothly I do feel, as Clint says, that I'm just the secretary, listing in and taking notes as the characters tell -- not me, but each other -- their stories. But things don't go that smoothly very often.
More often it's like... I don't know. Fishing. Or tennis, constantly watching the ball come back in different shapes and colors, taking the useful parts, bouncing what's left back over the net for another go. Or smacking something stubborn repeatedly with a hammer. But I've learned the hard way not to let the editor, as it were, write the book, because the parts that I do the easy way, by simply working out what logically comes next, are... sterile. Sensible. The stories are functional enough, but there's no particular reason for anyone to read them and not, say, an anatomy textbook.
I suppose that's why I haven't responded to this post before. For me, "are your characters writing your story?" is the wrong question. Of course they are -- or at least, my subconscious is, and character actions and voices are the framework my particular subconscious sends me to build everything else on. That's not a useful question. "How do you get them to write well
?" is, maybe, although I'm not sure I have the answer. Or perhaps "how do you make them stop?"