Monday, January 11, 2010


Quite often, authors “borrow” friends, family, or even passing strangers to make characters out of them. Despite the disclaimer that adorns the inside cover of many books, assuring the reader (and lawyers) that all of the people and places within these pages sprang from no where other than the author’s imagination, we are all guilty of fictionalizing reality from time to time.

With me, I find that sometimes I meet people so over-the-top that they seem a caricature already. A boy I once had a history class with, for example, who wore a different pair of designer sunglasses everyday all through class. A young goth man with his made-up face buried in a book of antique French poetry on the Paris metro. A girl with dark eyes and a strong laugh with a tattoo of cascading stars down her backbone that she would show to anyone who asked. All three made me pause and want to write them.

Many times, I do. The character starts out as a clone of their inspiration. In the case of Designer Sunglasses, this is how Karied Travan, a main character of my current novel, was born. I pasted D. S. directly into my world, coiffed blond hair, chiseled jaw and all. I wrote Karied as I imagined D. S. would react in the fictional world of Lirana. He would have to be rich, almost certainly spoiled, and possess an ego the size of the city. As I wrote more and more about him, though, I began to learn about Karied. I discovered his weaknesses, his all-consuming secret, both his artificial and true charm. He grew a family, a history, a future. And now he is almost unrecognizable from his roots as D. S., though he still resembles him physically.

Likewise, oftentimes characters spring from elements of ourselves. In the movie 9, a scientist uses a device to put pieces of his personality into nine homunculi, who then go on living after the apocalypse has killed all human life. Each of the nine creatures has a full character based on some of the scientist’s traits: the curious one, the power hungry one, the slightly neurotic one, etc. Although I would like to think that I don’t translate myself so blatantly onto the page, I know that my personality, interests, and beliefs seep through. Reading my novel, Erica said, was like reading a dictionary to my soul.

In the end, perhaps the most effective characters are a blend of both the known and the new. As we hone our craft and continue to write, we learn how to nurture characters into their full form, making them as real as if we just caught a glance of them on a crowded metro train.



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