Sunday, June 23, 2013

Where Do Our Characters in Our Novels Come From?

“O inspiration, from where do you come?
Tell me your secret, why so mum?
Did I write these words upon the page?
Or was it with help from a wise old sage?”
–Linda Pendleton, author

I’m often asked how I get my ideas for my characters in my novels.  I suppose I could say, “I have no idea, they just show up.”  And they do, sometimes out of the blue, or in a dream.  Also they could often be a conglomerate of specific, numerous, and complex personality traits we have observed in others, some good, some not so good.  After all, no one is perfect, even the good guys.

I recall writing a manuscript years back, my first or second one, when I was about four or five chapters into it.  I awakened one night with a new male character in my head.  I got out of bed and went to find my pen and legal pad.  In those days I wrote longhand, and then used a manual typewriter.    (Eh gads, white-out and carbon, and many retypes!)    

I wrote a description of a young man in his mid-twenties.  He was dark, Italian, and good looking.  But he had a thin scar across the side of his face.  I had no idea why a scar would be marring his good looks, but I did not question it.  I gave him the scar on the side of his face, which went from the outer edge of his eyebrow and down across his cheek to his jaw line. 

As I continued writing the novel I was to discover, several chapters later, why he had the scar on his face.  While a young teenager in Sicily, he had been abused and lashed by an older man who was a blacksmith and farrier.  The man had snapped a horse whip resulting in the searing cut to his face.   And the blacksmith was again in his life in those later chapters.  

I was surprised when the reason for the scar came about, as I had no conscious idea of why I “saw” him with the scar when he first came into my mind that night.  But that is the fun of writing.  Many times our characters write our stories if we step back and stay out of the way.   
The question a lot of people ask me is if I put people I know in my books.  The answer would be no.  The character or characters I create within my own mind and who find their way onto the pages of my books may be nothing more than a spark of creation from my own view of life, or from pieces of others who may have come in and out of my life, whether it be in a passing glance, a momentary speck of passion, an irritation, a voice, a song, a smile, a frown, or even a single word.

Life itself presents challenges, drama, pain, joy, grief, wonder, and more, and a successful novelist is called upon to examine and develop deeper insights into the moving forces that power creativity. Writing is an art, and it is up to the artist to produce a living image of reality.  The author is in charge of his or her own fictional world, and that fictional world needs to be understandable, coherent, and credible.

Although writing can be a lonely process, the writer and the characters he or she creates, are right there, alive and growing through the pages of the novel.  And it is the author’s hope that readers will get to know the characters and enjoy their roles within the story.