Character Possession

Character Possession

Dennis Bradford

389 Posts



Character possession occurs when the characters that an author creates take over the story.

What an interesting phenomenon!

How could it occur? How could characters that an author creates surprise that author? It seems to make no sense.

My eleventh book, A Dark Time, will be available on May 22nd from It’s my first work of fiction.

Whether it’s true or not, I have always preferred to think of myself as someone who could tell a good story. There’s at least some evidence for that. For example, I lettered as a quarterback in prep school. At the football banquet, I got telling stories to a lot of my teammates who had gathered around me. They had to interrupt me to give out the awards!

Those stories, though, were true. I didn’t invent them. So I wondered if I could tell a good story if I created it.

In addition to challenging myself to determine if I had what it took to finish such a project as well as just start it and getting published, I wanted to experience character possession.

Eventually, I’m pleased to report, I did experience character possession. The characters I’d created finished A Dark Time for me.

(By itself, this doesn’t mean that I wrote a good story. Perhaps experiencing character possession is a necessary condition for writing a good story. It’s certainly insufficient. A quality tale also requires talent as well as the sustained development of that talent.)

How is character possession possible?

Using my standard terminology of Being and Becoming, let me suggest for your consideration that character possession occurs when a story, which is temporal and, so, obviously an event in Becoming, has its origin in Being.

When writers talk about their muses working on them, they may be trying to articulate this connection with Being.

The thesis I’m suggesting is not novel. Eckhart Tolle, for example, has repeatedly said that the difference in quality between pulp fiction and literature is that only the latter manifests “presence,” which is a label for what he calls elsewhere “Being” or “space consciousness” or “the unmanifested.”

The manifestation itself, the sequence of words, occurs in Becoming. However, if its origin is in Becoming, it is merely the product of thoughts (mind), which necessarily limits its quality. A work like that is, since it comes from a person, obviously limited.

On the other hand, if its origin is limitless Being, although a person may be given credit for it, it’s not really a personal work.

Think of becoming enthralled by a great musical or athletic performance. In a clear sense, the musician or the athlete who is “in the zone” is an agent of something beyond. Yes, that person had talent and worked hard for a long time to develop that talent. There’s more to it, though, than just that.

What Tolle calls “presence” is the alert yet thoughtless awareness characteristic of mastery. Being is the wellspring from which all the different kinds of creative endeavors flow. The range of creativity is enormous; it includes, for example, the physics of an Einstein and the writing of popular songs. (Tolle uses as an example of the latter “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and he could have chosen hundreds of others.)

Although I wouldn’t have thought about it in quite this way, I was conscious of character possession before I even began to write A Dark Time. In fact, I doubt if I’d ever have shown it to anyone if I hadn’t experienced character possession while writing it. If you don’t tap into Being when making something, why trouble others with it?

Again, though, merely tapping into Being is insufficient for excellence. Even a Michael Jordon in his prime while playing in the zone didn’t make every single shot.

The key to accessing Being is thoughtless awareness. Thoughts are objects (forms, items in Becoming). Being is not an object.

An analogy may help. Visualize a room. Please actually take a few moments to do it.

Now, ask yourself how you would describe the room. You’d describe, perhaps, its furniture and flooring and lighting and wall decorations. Notice, though, that they are all objects! All those familiar objects occur in a background. The background is like Being. There would be no Becoming without Being. What we normally do is to focus exclusively on objects (forms, Becoming).  (This is why Tolle sometimes uses ‘space consciousness’ to contrast with objects in space.)

What great writers and other great artists sometimes enable us to do is to stop taking Being for granted. Being manifests in Becoming.

While objects can be pointed out, Being cannot be pointed out – but those objects wouldn’t be there without it.

We access Being when we stop focusing exclusively on thoughts and other objects.

How does this apply to character possession?

It’s easy to invent a character. Just put together a list of qualities that you want that character to have. (Many minor characters, even in great works of literature, are as dead and static as just such a list.) There’s no flesh and blood in a list. It’s a character born of mind.

It’s not so easy, though, to bring a character to life. When that occurs, character possession occurs. It’s a character who comes into mind from beyond mind.

So I was pleased that I was able to experience character possession when writing A Dark Time. If, however, you think that I am taking credit for it, you are clueless about the topic of this post.

I had the discipline to put the seat of my pants on the seat of my chair for hours every morning for several months; consequently, I should be given the credit (or blame!) for that.

I did not, though, create the experience of character possession. I was only an instrument (and, undoubtedly, a poor one).

It did.


As always, if you know someone who may benefit from reading this post, please pass it along.

Related post:  Rereading.

Related Resource:  My The 7 Steps to Mastery.

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