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. 

where do you get your ideas from?

Today I am returning to a frequently asked questions, “where do you get your ideas from?” is something I can be sure I’ll be asked whenever I am talking about writing or the business of being an author. 

I’m a polite person, brought up by nice and loving parents who taught me right from wrong. And I know it’s wrong to grab the questioner by the throat, slap them around the head a few times, then get up really close and screaming “open your fu**ing eyes, you moron” 

Look around you and do it with an open mind. Observe your surroundings, the places and people. See how the crowds ebb and flow through a railway station, one way in the morning and the other later on. Have you ever noticed how young men walk with a swagger and how old women move with more care. Watch a group of drinkers going out after work and see how they greet each other, it’s very different from a parent and child no matter what their ages.  There’s inspiration poring forth from everywhere. It gushes like a fire hydrant, you just need to seewhat’s in front of you.

An example. Earlier this year I was traveling on the London Underground. It was a Saturday morning, around nine thirty. At that time of day during the week the tube would be packed with commuters going to work but on weekend it’s more relaxed and there were plenty of seats available.  Some people still chose to stand and it was one of these that I noticed was drinking from a can of beer, a bit early in the morning for me but he might have been coming home from a party or even just finished a night shift. In a city like London, one which never sleeps, there are plenty of people whose clock runs at a different time to yours or mine.

Anyway back to our underground train. Two or three stops after I noticed the young man drinking he got off, or I did, I don’t remember and it’s not important, but by then I had created a back story for him, a family and a job. He worked in a big building with lots of companies spread across many floors. His job was to maintain the infrastructure of the building, heat, light, air conditioning,  that sort of thing. He also ran the cardboard compactor and from time to time he’d abduct a homeless person and put them through the compactor, streaming it live on the dark web for strange people who got their thrills from that sort of thing. He was paid a lot of money by each viewer to let them watch, more if he could stage a particularly warped fantasy devised by a viewer who’d also come and see it happening live.

The story needs a lot of work and anything or everything could change but the fact is I’d got inspiration from just seeing a person on a train and wondering “what if…” You see there are no sacred cows, nothing is out of boundsand the only limited to what you can write is what you’re willing to put your name too.  

If we are surrounded by inspiration then we need a way to record it. That’s why I always carry a note book, it gets filled with jottings, some terrible drawings and maybe even snippets of overheard conversations but I’ve always got it to refer back to and use when I want to build a character or remember a scene.