Inside A Writer’s Head

Bruce Robert Coffin here, wishing all of you the very best 2019 has to offer. I thought I’d begin the new year by allowing you a glimpse behind the scenes, where the magic happens.

Trying to explain novel writing to someone who’s never written a novel is, well, difficult. And, to be clear, I’m not talking about the nuts and bolts process of banging away feverishly on the keyboard with two fingers. I’m talking about novel writing. Spending day after day, week after week, and month after month, walking about like a crazy person with made-up characters living inside your head.


For those seeking a better understanding of exactly what it is that I’m talking about, I recommend watching the Hollywood treatment of Les Stadiford’s book, The Man Who Invented Christmas. The story finds famed author Charles Dickens suffering from a debilitating bout of writer’s block just before the Christmas holiday in 1843. On the heels of several literary flops, mounting personal debt, and the desire to write something meaningful, Dickens sets out to write a “little Christmas story”. And, as we all know now, that little novella became A Christmas Carol, one of the most beloved and timeless tales ever written.

I very much enjoyed the film’s treatment of Dickens’s struggles with his characters. As any writer can attest, our characters can be pesky creatures at times. The movie presents an overly simplified explanation for how Dickens created his characters, i.e. as soon as he comes up with the perfect name for his characters they magically appear, along with all of the traits and foibles he had envisioned. And while in real life our characters seldom appear to us as easily as they do for Stadiford’s Dickens, there is some truth to the telling, especially when Dickens is haunted by his creations as he struggles with everyday interruptions, his own past, the storyline, and with the message behind his story. That, my friends, is exactly what it is like to write novels. Our characters do reside in our heads, and each one demands to be heard and listened to. Many times while working on a novel I have found myself diverging from the course I’d envisioned for the story because one, or more, of my characters had something different in mind.

Watching this movie, which has become one of my seasonal favorites, it’s easy for me to imagine the real Charles Dickens pacing about his home talking to himself, and to his characters, as I am prone to do nearly two hundred years later.

If you haven’t seen The Man Who Invented Christmas yet, give it a try. If nothing else you’ll be treated to a rare glimpse into the crazy world of novel writing. Now if you’ll excuse me, Sergeants Byron and Joyner are in need of my attention.

About Bruce Robert Coffin

Bruce is a retired detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine's largest city. Bruce also spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, where he earned the Director's Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive. He is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mystery Series from HarperCollins. His short stories appear in a number of anthologies including The Best American Mystery Stories 2016. Bruce lives and writes in Maine.
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8 Responses to Inside A Writer’s Head

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Thanks, Bruce! You’ve just added a film to my “must see” list … somehow I’ve missed this one! All best to you and your characters!

  2. Pingback: Inside a Writer’s Head – James D. A. Terry

  3. Kate Flora says:

    Oh, goodie, a new movie for my holiday list. Thanks, Bruce. Met Les years ago at a conference, and also years ago got to take a quickie writing class from him. Didn’t know he’d done this. Right now, I am wishing any of my characters would speak to me. It’s like being part of a very large dysfunctional family. I think Burgess is coming around, though. Maybe ‘cuz I gave him a dog?

  4. Amber Foxx says:

    So true. My characters always go running with me, even the ones who aren’t runners. We have our best conversations out in the desert.

  5. Now I know I’m not crazy conversing with my characters in my head more often than I care to admit. Super article, Bruce.

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