Re: Characters - are they real or am I insane?
I usually talk as if my characters have a life of their own (getting some strange looks all around, but that just comes with it). They do, but I run a strict reqruiting process for my stories so I don't end up with nasty surprises. Had I put the characters in my second novel into the first one, they would've (about midway) said something in the line of "I don't think so..." and then gone to the pub. Same goes vice versa, my first novel MC would never do the nasties those guys are planning to do right now.
I never plan anything in detail, not even my characters' backgrounds. They let me know what shaped them later on. That way they shape the story, but the story fits them well enough to go in the direction I want it to. Otherwise, they'd be booted and I'd refill their slots with someone who could take the pressure. Minor stuff are always great though, like when the girl just refused to fall in love with the guy I made for her. Then two others fell in love instead. I must've sounded like I had just watched Days of our Lives when I told that to my boyfriend, but it ended up making so much more sense.
So I agree it's about how you write. I don't plot, I just start out with a general idea and if I run into obstacles I rely on my characters to solve them. Yes, of course metaphorically speaking, but I use my very general plot to know what's next, not to dictate it in case something would change. If it would cause too much trouble though, I think I'd redo my reqruitment process to make better fits. So far it's been working out, and I love the way characters reveal things that makes me go "aha, of course!" instead of me spending days creating a rigid structure that would make the actual writing (to me) much more dull.