An interesting question. We’ve all seen lists of ideas on how to make the characters in our books into real people. In fact we have one coming out in a few weeks also, but still, how do we come up with that special character in the beginning?
Sue: For my villain in my first Meg mystery, I thought of my first boyfriend. He and I were hot stuff in high school, but once we were in college he dropped me like the preverbal hot potato. So was I hurt, you betcha. Now it was get even time. I delighted in not only making him the bad guy but I even went so far as to give the villain his real first name. Oh, how I loved it when he got
Becky: Right. I too take people I have known or even parts of myself and turn them into fictional characters. Usually it is just one little thing or an incident that I might pull from someone around me. For instance in my romance, Home Fires Burning, I took a line from my mother and the story idea from her romance with my dad. The line she always repeated, from the first time she saw him as a young teen, was, "I'm going to marry that guy some day." She fell for him from the moment she laid eyes on him and I took that love story and built it into my romance. I set the whole thing on a Colorado ranch, which was where they met.
Sue: Other characters somehow just appear in one’s mind. Where they come from, I’m not sure. My theory is that the brain, while sleeping, those gray cells are working on possible characters for you to use.
Becky: I'm also always looking for special characters who can play off each other. For instance in my Dead Man's Rules, I have two characters in a small New Mexico town who have both spent time living in Los Angeles. All Cere my heroine can think about is how to cover a big story so she can redeem herself in her boss's eyes and get back to the city. But for Rafe, it means serenity and peace. He loves the small town that he has chosen as a refuge from the dangerous big city.
Sue: While other characters come from life. I use friends and relatives and sometimes just people I met or see in my daily travels. I might take the gray beard from the guy who sold me new tires, or the bent nose from the butcher who sold me my meat. Another character I used was from one of the neighbors down the block and how she was always butting into everyone’s business. I made her a nosy sister-in-law that needed a good telling off. Lots of fun.
Becky: I do the same. I'm always observing people and picking up little bits and pieces from them that I find fascinating. As writers it's something I think we need to foster in ourselves. Be observant and pay attention to everything around us.
You never know when you will be meeting your next fictional character.
We hope you'll watch for our new Dottie book on characters, Let's Write a Story: Creating Memorable Characters, coming soon. It can help you learn how to make cardboard cut-out characters into actual story people your readers will love.