Writers often report vivid experiences of hearing characters talking to them, talking back to them, and exhibiting independence and autonomy. However, systematic empirical studies of this phenomenon are almost non-existent, and as a result little is known about its cause, extent, or phenomenology. Here we present the results of a survey of professional writers (n = 181) run in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Participants provided detailed descriptions of their experiences of their characters in response to a phenomenological questionnaire, and also reported on imaginary companions, inner speech and hallucination-proneness. Qualitative analysis indicated that the phenomenology of the experience of agentive characters varied in terms of the characters’ separateness from the writer’s self and the kinds of interaction this did or did not allow for. We argue that these variations can be understood in relation to accounts of mindreading and agency tracking which adopt intuitive as opposed to inferential models.
Foxwell, J., Alderson-Day, B., Fernyhough, C., & Woods, A. (2020). ‘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, 79, Article 102901. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2020.102901