Do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?

I had someone ask me once, do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?

To be honest, the question stumped me at the time.  I had to think about it for a minute before I said, “both.”

I’ve tried many times to write stories about certain types of characters I’ve had in mind, but ended up abandoning them and the story because I just couldn’t put myself into them.  I had great ideas, great plot lines, but the actual character development felt forced.  I just couldn’t relate to them and the more I tried to make them ‘likeable’, the more I ended up despising them.

Then there are the ones I love, like David, Charlotte, Trog and Eric from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King.  I know what they have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I know their bathroom habits, how often they brush their teeth, their highs, their lows, their ups, their downs.  Every deep, dark secret they ever had, I know about.  Now, you can say “Well, of course you know about those things because you wrote them”, but it goes beyond that.  They are as much a part of me as I am of them.  They ‘speak’ to me, and if I let them, they lead me down the plot path and offer up twists and turns in ways I never dreamed.  Many times I dream about them to the point they wake me up in the middle of the  night and I have to run out to my computer to write it down before I forget it.  So many sub-plots were revealed to me by letting my ‘characters’ guide my writing.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m merely a vessel for them to tell their story.

I’ve read interviews with other authors who claim they same suffered from the same dilemma.  J.K. Rowling even admitted that it was difficult to wake up and not write another line or any other stories about Harry, Hermione and Ron.  She’d been with them so long, talking to them, studying them, venturing off with them on their adventures that it felt very strange not having them around anymore.  That is the way I feel about the main characters in my novel.  Sadly, I know there will come a day when I put “The End’ on the series and David, Charlotte, Trog and Eric will no longer play a role in any other story I write.  Like Rowling, I’m sure there will be a sense of relief that it’s over, but I also know I will be sad at the same time.  I imagine it will be like moving away and leaving behind all of my best friends.  Hopefully, some new characters will take root in my mind before that time comes, making the transition easier.  I can only hope.  But I won’t worry about that now.  I still have two more novels to write in the series.

So, what about you?  Do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?  I’d love to read your comments.