Where Do Characters Come From?

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I write fiction. That means my story and characters are all made up. Nothing is real. Right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.

When I set out to create my characters, I had a few specific goals in mind. I wanted them to feel like real people, and they needed to be distinctly different from one another. I wanted the reader to have a clear picture of which characters were in a scene, based on what they said, how they said it, and the way they acted.

For the most part, I think I’ve pulled it off, and I get a lot of compliments on the way my characters “jump off the page.” You’ll be able to decide for yourself in a few weeks when I start to introduce them.

My primary objective, though, was to create characters who were not like me. I originally thought I’d succeeded, but now I’m not so sure.

After several months of playing with my imaginary friends, I began to feel like I really knew these people… and, not just because I’d spent more time with them than I had with my family or real friends.

I realized all of my female characters had a trait I could identify with. A small piece of me. Good, bad, or evil.

Some are suppressed characteristics, my inner voices that I choose keep hidden or wish I could let out, but I recognized them in my ladies. Danni, my main character, is timid. Kendra is brash. Jen is nurturing. Kristi is a bit of a flake. Alexia, well… some things are best left unsaid.

Some people who’ve already read parts of my novel seem to get the impression I’m Danni, and I can understand how that may have happened. I like reading stories told in first person (I, me, my), so that’s how I write. And I like to immerse myself in my characters, imagine myself in their place, to capture their emotions and share them with the reader.

Danni and I are very different, and my novel is definitely not a story about me. This says a lot about the believability of my characters though, and that’s pretty exciting. I accomplished what I set out to do.

As I continued writing, I began to notice more similarities. Tiny details about other people in my life had been pulled from my mental files and plugged into different characters, male and female, without consciously making the decision—phrases, attitudes, reactions, gestures, and so forth. I won’t mention specific details, and I’m sure there are others I haven’t discovered yet.

Now, before you get egotistical or paranoid, I should probably explain that these are small pieces of a character’s overall personality. There is one character I created with a real person in mind, the rest—sorry to disappoint—are fictional. You’ll need to read my book when it’s released to see if a little piece of you influenced my creativity.

There’s an expression that says, “Write what you know.” It’s intended to mean a writer should choose a topic they are familiar with, and write about that. When it comes to characters, I guess I tend to “Write who I know.”

So, “Thank you,” to my amazing friends and family for inspiring me to create interesting and realistic characters. –CJ

6 responses

  1. I got asked in an interview (about one of my upcoming stories) if any of the characters were based on me or people I knew. My real answer was incredibly psychotic. The male MC was me in high school, his friend was me in college, the dad was me now – it sounded more than a little self serving!

    So I said “No.”

    I use a lot of little things here and there to shape characters, some of which come from the me I am and some of which come from the me I’d like to be. Some are from friends. The vast majority are made up, but somehow if you admit to using anything from real life, it’s considered cheating. In some way shape or form, it all comes from real life, since we are not writing on Mars.

    I’ll put a well turned phrase by a friend into a story just as a way of letting the friend know they are interesting enough to be part of a character.

    Here’s another oddball tidbit. One thing I learned about tension in storytelling was I could do it better if I wrote in 1st person, otherwise I tended to give all the suspense away. That’s why I switched. It was much easier to build tension when the “I” character didn’t know what was around the corner.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “if you admit to using anything from real life , it’s considered cheating” — That’s an interesting way to look at things… I’d never heard anyone say that before.

      A gourmet chef isn’t cheating because he uses ingredients that already exist to create a spectacular meal. Why should authors be looked at any differently for using pieces of life that exist around us, or in our memories, to create an entertaining book?

      I agree writing in first person creates better tension. As the author, we have to take ourselves through the steps with the character, only discovering what’s around the corner when she does. In a sense, it forces us to be closer to the character, and I think that carries through to the reader.

      The downside, if you really want to call it one, is that the reader sometimes believes we actually are writing about ourselves. I know whether I am or not, so I just take that as a compliment.

      Why am I not surprised you wrote three characters of yourself in one book? Too funny! (and to think I have the confession here on my blog… 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is sooooooo funny.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. They say you should be able to identify with all your characters, in some way. Or at least to understand what motivates them.
    It’s amazing how attached we can become to our characters. And, now attached your readers can become to them too.
    Your writing style is obviously working for you. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For me, the most exciting is seeing readers’ reactions to them. It’s almost like watching your children be accepted into their first play group.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a great analogy!

        Like

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