October 25, 2018

From Inner Speech to Memorable Characters

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Oliver Sacks, M.D. was a physician, a best-selling author, and a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. The New York Times has referred to him as “the poet laureate of medicine.”
He is best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain and An Anthropologist on Mars. Awakenings, his book about a group of patients who had survived the great encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early twentieth century, inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Dr. Sacks was a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.“

Dr. Sacks had this to say about, “the act of writing, when it goes well, gives me a pleasure, a joy, unlike any other. It takes me to another place—irrespective of my subject—where I am totally absorbed and oblivious to distracting thoughts, worries, preoccupations, or indeed the passage of time. In those rare, heavenly states of mind, I may write nonstop until I can no longer see the paper. Only then do I realize that evening has come and that I have been writing all day. Over a lifetime, I have written millions of words, but the act of writing seems as fresh, and as much fun, as when I started it nearly seventy years ago.” Dr Sacks also said, “dialogue launches language, the mind, but once it is launched we develop a new power, “inner speech,” and it is this that is indispensable for our further development.” Although Sacks was speaking about individuals, I think, as authors, it certainly applies to the characters we create.

Are you absorbed in the act of writing? Do you lose track of time because you are immersed in putting your words to paper?

If you said “yes,” then you are like me. The stories in your head compel you to get your words on paper. The characters you create have conversations in your inner-speak, and it’s up to you to get the dialogue written down to tell the story we are creating for our readers. This inner speech is an author’s greatest gift for creating characters that live through generations of readers.

Book Editors says, “Character development begins with voice. By understanding what someone says to themselves and how they choose to verbalize their internal dialogue, you can create a realistic and dependable character.”

How has your inner speech helped you write?

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