Monday, January 10, 2011

All About the Voices in Our Heads: Characters

I recently read an interview with Nicole Macdonald, the author of the book I reviewed on Friday. There was a question in there about how her main characters were inspired by her real life best friends. Then the author, herself, commented on that in her latest blog post:

"If you read the interview I did with Kerrin (the one on her blog not mine) you'll see that some of the characters were inspired by people I know. This is very common for me to do and I have a character in mind based on a friend but I have realized that she will very possibly be killed off in book three (nothing set in stone yet, but I'm processing the possibility). It is a weird thing to say to a friend 'yeah I had an idea for a character that's rather you… but I think she dies in book three…' *hee*"

This got me thinking about what 'makes' a writer's characters. I've read plenty on a frustrating muse, plenty on how to get to know your characters and flesh them out, and plenty on how they lead your story. Laurell K. Hamilton, an author I've been reading more of recently, talks about how her characters almost literally tell her the story she writes down as she's writing it and derail her best laid plans constantly. I've personally experienced that once I have a picture of someone, they suddenly take on lives of their own. Other people, like Miss MacDonald, base their characters off people in their lives.

In a sense, I can see how this applies to some of mine. For instance, in the manuscript I'm serializing right now on The Fianna blog, there's a character named Helen Harper who loosely resembles the overbearing nature of my mom I experienced growing up and the devil-may-care, eternal teenager attitude of another mom I knew. Helen's daughter Lucy's family situation loosely resembles my own. Of course, nothing in my life involves hunting magical nymphomaniacs or homicidal ex-gods.

What would you say? Are your characters more along the lines of people in your every day life or are they a contrived mesh of seemingly random traits compiled into a single entity? Do you work with subjects you already have or play God and make up something completely different? Perhaps something in between?


  1. I tend to think most my main characters resemble me in some way- sometimes I put them in a situation I have been in, sometimes they have a trait or two of mine instead. Good post! Hamilton is a good author, I've read a great deal of her anita blake series.

  2. @Summer: Thanks! :) And I started out with her Merry Gentry series. She's got a way with suspense and characterization I think. And definitely well researched. I just picked up Guilty Pleasures recently and so far it's good.

  3. *giggle* thanks for the quote! I really don't know anyway to write without incorporating people I know. That said not ever character in the book is based or inspired by someone I know. SOmetimes I get inspiration from the oddest places - like the impatient overbearing woman waiting for her coffee - with an attitude that screams 'look at me!!' :)

    The Arrival, on Amazon NOW!

  4. ...characters are created from the lives we live, the people we associate with, the atmosphere we find ourselves in. The more we experience life and what it has to offer, the more interesting our characters become. Afterall, they come from us:)
    Great post, B.E.T!

  5. My characters may have traits of people I know, but once they're on the page they take on a life of their own. They direct the story and surprise even me. So maybe they're a little of both. I think as writers everything that we've absorbed in life comes out in our writing and our characters in some way.

    Great thought provoking post!