I can't explain it, honestly. I don't really go through any particular processes to get to know my characters, like writing down their hobbies, or what they would wear. I just... know all that stuff. I pull it out when I need it for my story, and put it away when I don't. They come to me as fully-formed people, and just as deep as they need to be.
I know every writer is different. I know some who have this same sort of instant character birth, and others who have to stop and really get to know their characters before they can write them. And just like any other aspect of writing, I can't really say that one way works better than the other.
I know that regardless, our characters won't leave us alone. It makes us sound crazy, the way we talk about them sometimes. "I had to tell her story, she wouldn't shut up about it!" My second novel was this way. James, the protagonist, sprung into my head one day and just started narrating. I couldn't stop writing until I'd gotten down everything he had to say. The novels that followed haven't been quite as compulsory, but close enough. I think the only reason they haven't been that way is that I've learned to temper that obsession, so I can have a life, still.
And I wonder-- is the obsession writing, or the story? Do I go on relentlessly because I love my hobby, or because I can't wait to find out what happens to these people? People I've just met, but feel like I've known for years?
Let's be honest-- the answer is always the latter, even when I know the ending first (and I always know the ending first). I wouldn't want to write my characters if they weren't interesting people. And when I'm done with a manuscript and ready to send it off, I feel like a proud parent watching their child graduate college. Time to send them into the world, and see how they do. Sink or swim.
Of course I hope they swim. They're my newest oldest friends, and the children of my mind.
Does anyone else ever wonder if being a writer is just a socially-acceptable label for crazy?