How much of me is there in a character?

Do I base them on people I know?

walking away with style

The truth is that you have to start from somewhere and then build up. Very few characters come to an author fully formed and a writer blends together ideas to build a more real character.

Observing people and blending together traits of their personality gives me, as a writer, the material I need to create new and interesting characters. If I see someone on the street who has a distinctive walk I’ll try to describe it in words;

She rolled her hips as she walked along the pavement, a smooth action like the endless waves on a deep, wide ocean. 

I’ll make a note and perhaps add it to a character’s profile if it’s appropriate. But we must be careful not to give any one person too many eccentricities otherwise they will come across as unreal and far-fetched. 

This is not true if you’re witting a character with a collection of associated traits which together make him or her stand out. If for instance your character has Asperger’s syndrome then it would be acceptable to make them socially inept, they will a loner, not like crowds and not want to make eye contact when talking to people. If a character has a condition that makes them who they are it is important to give them the correct “tics and flics” and not to make light of the condition lest you offend those who in real life are affected. 

Generally I like to create characters in a database and know as much about them as I can. Name, Address, Age, Sex, all the basic stuff. Then I go deeper and add fields for hair colour, accent, smoker yes/no, drinker?, height and colour of eyes, even what car would they drive. By the time I’ve filled the twenty seven fields I will know them quite well; and I still don’t know what story they are going to be added to. I just like creating characters. 

If I place a character in a book I will fill in the rest of the fields. What do they do for a living, what is their relationship to other characters and how do they feel about what’s going on in the story. I have nearly fifty possible fields to fill and at the end I will know them better than I know members of my own family. 

But are they based on people I know? Well yes and no. Claudilia Belcher who is the main character in the Wimplebridge stories is a blend of a handful of people I know, mostly they are still living but one is tragically dead. Friends may recognise facets of themselves but not whole individuals.

            How much of me is there in a character. I said that I blend them together so there must be some of me in there. Their thoughts are my thoughts and their words are my words. May be a writer’s creations can say things the author could not get away with voicing himself. That’s a whole topic on its own and one for another day.