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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Creating Characters from the Good and the Not-So-Good

In Shrinking Violet, Tere has a crush on a cute “nice” guy, Gavin. After reading the book, an old friend that I hadn’t talked to in over twelve years, emailed me and said she was dying to know who was my Gavin in high school. Sadly I had to answer that I did not have a Gavin, nothing close to him, but I sure wished I did. Rather I told her that he was created from a bunch of nice cool guys that I’ve meet over the years, including my husband.
So far none of my characters are directly modeled after one person, but I do pull from all directions to shape them into who they are. It’s like a good soup, I take a little spice form here, chop up this vegetable and that one, until I have the perfect combination. If something is too flat or one-dimensional, I just keep on adding more spice until I have it right.
I’d love to hear from other authors how they go about selecting their characters but so far for me, I’ve created mine from bits and pieces of things I’ve learned from or about people over the years. If I meet someone totally outrageous I file that encounter into my memory bank and hope to be able to fit them into a story one day. It almost makes those encounters more bearable because you can say, at least I can use this in my book!
This certainly applies to the crazy lady at the Samurai restaurant tonight. My kids were playing with a few toys on a table in the waiting area of the restaurant, One of my sons walked around the lady to retrieve his toy that had fallen and she barked, “You stay on your side and we’ll stay on ours.” It was our anniversary and my husband and I didn’t want this crazy lady ruining it so we chose to ignore her. Then of course when they called us to our table, we were supposed to sit with crazy lady and her family because it’s one of those restaurants where they cook in front of you and everyone sits together. She immediately complained and got moved to another table.
It turns out, we had a great dinner and my kids were very well-behaved. Much more than I could say for crazy lady. When we got up to leave we walked by her yelling at the manager, “Either the waiter is going to get stiffed or you are. Now take that off my bill!” She left red-faced and angry and we couldn’t help but laugh. And then I thought, to top it off, she’d make a great character in one of my books. For now she’s stuffed into my memory bank but one day she may resurface. So my advice, whenever anyone ticks you off, just pass it off as character research!


Jennifer Echols said...

(A) That picture scared the hell out of me. (B) I have had friends and family say exactly this to me about characters in my books. It creeps me out because it's like they're trying to catch me at something. (C) This is exactly how I go about creating characters. I have tried to explain this to the friends and family, but they just look at me with this expression of, "No, I've caught you, that character is definitely Billy Bob from the 4th grade." I think you don't really understand this unless you're a writer.

JLT said...

I warn my students all the time to be careful what they say and do or they may recognize their words/habits in my books someday! :) Love the story, Danielle. Got to love people!


Jenny O'Connell said...

My characters are totally bits and pieces of real life people. The guys the girls like are always based upon my husband, the pricks on my ex-boyfriends and the nasty girls on the mean ones I always wished would get a clue and act nice!

Jan Blazanin said...

If I used the woman in that picture as a character, nobody would believe someone could be that outrageous. I'm a bits and pieces character creator, too. But if I ever base a character on a real person, you'll never get me to admit it!

Danielle Joseph said...

There is a quite a theme going on here--everyone that posted has a first name that starts with J! Anyway, I liked hearing all your comments on character, very interesting. Jenn, I didn't mean to scare you:)!