Do you base your characters off of people you know or do they just come to you? Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?

1) Do you base your characters off of people you know?

Well, I used to. I think every author starts out doing so. Especially as children.

“This is you. This is me. And this is our magic bobsled. I named him Fred. And we go on exciting adventures together.”

Why? Because it’s a really easy way to make them whole people. You already know a lot about them. Motives and mannerisms are all built in. For me, it was a visual issue. I have a hard time visualizing faces; I can’t come up with a face from thin air. And if I cannot visualize their face, they don’t become whole. They are incomplete, which is unacceptable. So, using a friend as a template made a lot of sense. In my early novels (y’know, the ones that will never see the light of day), I even based entire species and cultures on the preferences of one of my friends.

The reason I don’t anymore is simple. Due to the fact that sometimes one might get into a disagreement with a certain person (your husband, for example), the character based on said person might end up very, very dead… Once you make up, and you’d love for them to read the latest book you just finished, you get to have this lovely conversation:

A: Y-You killed me?!
B: You told me to. (And he did.)
A: Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d do it!
B: So, you’re saying that I shouldn’t listen to you?
A: No! …I can’t believe you killed me!

2) Do they just come to you?

I don’t like the phrase, “just come to you”, because it implies that I haven’t done any work into forming these characters. When people ask me that, it makes me think of the goddess, Athena, springing forth full grown from Zeus’ forehead. That’s probably weird, but you have to admit, it’s a perfect analogy.

No, you have to think of all the things that go into people: how they look, how they speak, word choices, their likes and dislikes, outgoing or introverted, motivations, occupations, history, relationships. And that doesn’t even touch how they’re going to fit into your story or how you’re going to build a story around them. This isn’t to say that sudden bursts of inspiration don’t strike where you just know that you have gold, but if I waited for that to happen for every character, I’d be waiting for a long time.

3) Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?

Since I have trouble visualizing, when creating my own characters, I tend to work backwards. In the early stages of character development, I will start out with a vague inclination. About eighty percent of the time, I will pick an aesthetically pleasing (or displeasing as the case may be) actor or actress and use them for my visual template that matches the same general feel of the character. Dark and brooding? Feisty? Fun-loving? Depending on the visuals, I tend to just go from there, putting together the puzzle and thinking about who that I need this character to be. A lot authors work the other way around, trying to match an actor or actress who most closely resembles what they’re trying to achieve.

Where I get into trouble is when I don’t intend to keep a character, but then as I use them they start to amuse me. Daisuke was like this. He just wouldn’t die! But I guess that’s a blog post for another day.

Colleen

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One thought on “Do you base your characters off of people you know or do they just come to you? Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?

  1. I am a character writer, that’s where my focus, my love, my passion is. I really enjoyed reading this set of questions and your answers! 🙂

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