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Friday, November 9, 2012

Characters: two more thoughts

These topics didn't fit in so well with the rest...

Bits & pieces of everyone you know
Since you're a writer, you're bound to be asked if you include people you know in your stories. I'm willing to bet that while there may be similarities between your characters and your friends, they aren't exact copies. Or weren't intended to be.

I find that people I know are most likely to turn up in walk-on roles, in my stories. Background extras who need a little something to keep from being cardboard, but don't get much attention. Or sometimes, isolated little habits turn up -- a character will suddenly turn out to have my grandfather's fondness for over-easy eggs. Or when confronted with a shelf of identical objects, the character needs to tidy them up to all face in the same direction.

Overall, the people we know aren't necessarily going to be the best fit for our stories. Unless you lead an unusually interesting life...

Recurring types 
After you've written several novels, or a pile of short stories -- because you're in this writing thing for the long haul -- you're probably going to see patterns emerge. In terms of characters, there will be common traits and personality types that turn up. Some of that is because, well, you need characters who are willing and able to get the job done. Some of those common traits are there because of your own character, what you find sympathetic/realistic/interesting, and what your gut's biases are.

Is that a bad thing? On one hand, it's good to push your own envelope. That includes working with characters who challenge you to understand their motivations and priorities. On the other hand, it's hard to carry around someone you don't like in your head all day.

Have you worked with characters very different from yourself? Ones you wouldn't want to be around, if it were real life? 

3 comments:

Sean McLachlan said...

One nice thing about being a writer is that everyone you meet is useful, even boring or obnoxious people.
Once I needed my protagonist to meet someone who was rude for no reason. I was mulling over just how this walk-on character would be as I was heading to a party one night. I wasn't sure where I was going and I stopped a guy on the street and asked him for directions.
"Do you have a cigarette?" he asked.
"No," I replied.
He smirked and said, "Then I don't know where that street is."
Then he walked away.
A perfect asshole for my story!

Wendy H said...

Very interesting blog, and very interesting post.

I have been writing manuscripts primarily for children's books, so I haven't really used the protagonist/antagonist element very much at this point of course. But when I do, it will be interesting to notice from whom my characters get their personalities and quirks.

Wendy H said...

Talk about serendipity! Nice how a not-very-nice person was yet in another way an answer to a problem. Life is funny like that.