Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I know I talked recently about how to make your heroes more relatable to the reader, but the hero is only one part of the story.  To go along with him or her, there is an assortment of people who provide boundaries to the story and help keep it moving along.  So where do such people come from?

I have two main sources my characters come from.  The first is from my personal life.  People I know very well, as well as people I've only met in passing, have made it into my work, albeit in altered forms.  I've also melded several people into one on an occasion or two to create someone new.

TV and movies have also provided the impetus for some of my characters.  Some, like the mentor Patrick Levinson in Akeldama, were almost exact duplicates who were simply pasted into the tale.  Others, like the main character's lab partner Gary in Salvation Day, are the spitting physical image of someone famous, but with traits that I found more attractive than the original person(Gary is based on a fairly controversial politician, and I didn't want that to get in the way of the story).

So what gives?  Why can't I just create an original character out of whole cloth?  Mostly because that's not the way it works in real life.  Even the most famous of writers draw on what they know for inspiration.  Jack Torrance in The Shining was made up a lot from what terrified Stephen King about himself.

We will do this whether we realize it or not.  Most of us dream when we sleep, but did you know that even in dreams you steal characters?  According to research, you don't dream about anyone you haven't encountered before, even if that encounter was very brief and not remembered on a conscious level.  With this in mind, is it any wonder we draw on experience for those who go into our work?

Pay attention to those around you and see if they could, in some way, make a significant, or even an insignificant, contribution to your story.  Do they have an odd facial feature that adds weight to your tale.  Or is there some personality trait that might create a storyline others would be interested in?  Is this person a positive or negative influence in your life, and what would their impact be to your book?  Also, what would you modify about that person to make them more conducive to your story?

You are not surrendering your creative talents by doing this - you are enhancing them.  Think about some character you'd like to include in your next story.  Maybe it's a chef who works at the restaurant your hero likes to frequent, and this chef holds the key to unlocking the heroes past.  I'll bet an image of that person has already formed, and I'll bet that person has a familiar face.  Does it look like your uncle?  Maybe it looks like Matt Damon or Halle Berry.  Could it be your garbage man?  Regardless of who it looks like, your brain is scanning the thousands of faces you're familiar with and trying to match one of those faces with the person described above, so why fight it?

Additional characters are so vital to our work, yet so difficult to make real, that we should accept help where we can get it from, even the real world.  Doing so doesn't detract from your imagination - it gives it heft and makes a more believable tale.

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