Writer-Character Conflation Syndrome

While I was at the writers conference, I had the weirdest experience.

I was standing in line for the cafeteria dinner when I spotted the menu and my heart immediately leapt in happiness—Brussel sprouts! Then I frowned.

Because, you see, I don’t like Brussel sprouts.

It’s my caterpillar character, Shuapoka, who likes Brussel sprouts.

And that’s when I knew I had it: Writer-Character Conflation Syndrome.

As writers, we spend a lot of time in our characters’ heads. We know them inside and out, their desires, fears, likes, dislikes, how they would respond to questions when angry versus sad, the things they notice, the things they are prone to overlook. We make faces to try to figure out how to describe their expressions, and we try to match our emotions to theirs to imagine how they would respond.

And sometimes we can get a little lost in there.

Or, at least, I can.

WCC Syndrome is when the way your characters think leak into your daily life—for example, getting excited when you see the sign for Brussel sprouts.

I’ve also had a character who abhorred touching metal. For months as I wrote her, I had a hard time picking up coins. And I swear writing Twig, the protagonist of An Insignificant Drop of Ink, has made me a more positive person.

If you think about it, it actually makes sense that the characters we write can change us if we let them. The brain likes patterns. Patterns are like well-worn paths, much easier for the brain to go down than forging a new path each day. In other words, just as you can form habits out of actions, you can form habits in your thought life.

Writing takes hours upon hours of work. Whether you like it or not, your brain is forming patterns during this time. If you’re writing from the perspective of a perennially negative character, you’ll have to work that much harder to keep your brain from falling into those patterns during the time when you’re not writing. If you’re writing from a positive character’s perspective, you may find it easier, like me, to maintain a positive attitude.

Honestly, that’s one of the main reasons I write primarily upbeat, hopeful stories. I love torturing my characters as much as the next writer, but when it comes to the end, I want to leave feeling satisfied and like the world is a brighter place.

So have you ever encountered Writer-Character Conflation Syndrome? Tell me your stories in the comments below!

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