Creating Characters

ImageMany of the characters in my books were created from people I know or have known in real life. My mother recently commented that the characters in my new series remind her of our family. There’s a good reason for that, Mom.  Image

A few bloggers have made their way into my books in one fashion or another. The latest is my friend Jackie at To Breathe is to Write.

Last year, I was having a hard time completing Maple Leaf Hunter. I was afraid when it was finished, my writing days would be over. However, my blog post of May 15 tells how the idea for my new series came about. Here is part of Jackie’s comment that day:

“I TOLD YOU SO!!! I TOLD YOU YOU HAD MORE BOOKS IN YOU AND ONE DAY IT WOULD JUST POP OUT!!! … I am volunteering to be one of the sisters!!! or, one of the characters. hehehe. I just love the concept and can’t wait for the first book. Big hugs!!”

I responded:

“I can put you in the book as a character. A famous writer friend in the neighborhood!”

When I started writing the book, the new character was quick to surface. In the first chapter, Jackie rushed onto the scene as the town’s star journalist. A short time later, she muscled her way into the series title: Two Sisters and a Journalist. That wasn’t planned, but it works, and it still makes me laugh.

Real life Jackie portrays herself as a redhead in cartoons on her blog, she loves to cook, and Imageshe’s writing a novel. These same three things also describe the voluptuous Jackie character in my new series.

Here’s another snippet from my work in progress. This one highlights Jackie.

– – –

Before he could respond and defend Officer Collins further, Jackie rushed in like a whirlwind. She glanced around the room. I knew she was taking stock of our appearance and demeanor.

It was obvious she had dashed right over. Usually impeccably dressed, she was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, with a sweater thrown on for warmth. Blessed with boobs, curves, and flowing red hair, Jackie was a siren. Howard’s eyes were shining and bulging as he unabashedly looked her up and down before noticing the blue pie box in her hands.

She moved to the table to look the girl over, sidled up to the coroner, and said, “It’s been a while, Howard. I thought you might like an apple pie since you’ll be working late tonight.” Her voice was sexy. I bit my lip again. She knew exactly how to play the man.

“My favorite,” he said. His eyes returned to her chest. “I can’t believe you remembered.”

She looked over at me and winked. I was going to have a hole in my lip if I bit any harder. She pointed to the body and asked, “Was this you?”

I shook my head. “Not this time. She fell out of the trunk of her cab over by the railroad tracks on Maple.”

Image– – –

Jackie has interviewed me for her blog post today. I hope you’ll pop on over to say hello and read the interview. It was fun answering her questions.

Before you go, leave a comment and tell me how you come up with your characters.

50 thoughts on “Creating Characters

  1. Well, my characters are either how I wish people were and behaved, or a reflection of what I dislike in people and how they behave.

    Sometimes, if I’m feeling generous, I try to explore the edges of those extremes.

    I don’t draw on people I know because I don’t know many people. Plus, drawing on people I know is a bit uncomfortable as I then have to make judgments on who they are. Given that I’m still working out who I am, I don’t think I should speculate on who others are.

    That said, I do occasionally draw on traits of movie characters as basis for a larger canvas; it helps with visualizing both movement and idiosyncrasies. I say that even though i seldom describe a character’s physical appearance.

    . . . btw, taken out of context, Howard comes across as not imbued with either a sense of propriety nor the capacity for deep thought and reflection . . . although I get the feeling the character is written such.

    • I like how you develop your characters.

      I’m careful not to go too deep into people I know. Like Jackie – redhead, good cook, writer – no need to go any deeper; she is more a muse than the personality. It’s worked out great.

      As for Howard, he definitely doesn’t have a sense of propriety. I’m still working on him. He had a small role in the last book – a bit larger in this one.

  2. Maddie!!! Thank you for the nice post about me and my character. I love her in the book. She’s sassy and bright and all the things I wish I was. hahaha! I can bake a great apple pie though.

    I enjoyed interviewing you my friend. You gave some great answers and a little bit of an insight on Maddie. I appreciate you letting me experiment on you! Big hugs!

    • I love how Jackie is developing in the book. She definitely is a fun one! You are a great muse!

      Thank you for the interview. I appreciate your time, and I think both of our posts turned out well. 😉

  3. It’s funny, but I’ve never based any of my characters on real people. Yet.

    Enjoyed reading your excerpt. Jackie’s question of “Was this you?” made me laugh. Jo does seem to be a magnet for corpses. 🙂

    • I love basing characters on people I know – as long as it doesn’t go too far or too deep. I’ve even used names of our son’s friends. They think it’s a hoot.

      Glad you liked the excerpt. It’s not edited, and I already see changes I want to make, but Jo will very likely find a body herself in this new book. 😉

  4. some characters are definitely people I know others are stalkers that creep into my mind and annoy me until I give in and write about them or at least scribble them into a note book 😀

  5. OK, Maddie, I want to be in the NEXT book! Just so you know, I’m’ not going to be a stalker – ew – just to get in a book. Just a very good friend who loves your books, and your advice and encouragement! 🙂

    • Hahaha! I work it out, Marsha. I’ll have a “Marsha” do something in the book. Ooh, I know – a teacher! Isn’t that a stretch. 😉

      Thank you for the kind words. You are a good friend, and I appreciate your encouragement as well.

  6. My characters are complete figments of my imagination. They run around in my head even when I’m not writing. They’re just always there. I’ve tried to create characters from people I know who I feel “should be a character in a book.” But I never feel satisfied with how they come out on paper and I get frustrated. Which is a shame, because I know some real characters!!!

    • I bet you *have* known some real characters! From other countries, too. 🙂 That’s so neat that you have your characters in your head, ready to be written.

      This post has been a bit eye-opening for me. I think all of my characters have elements of someone I know/have known – or even drawn from a television character. All of them – whether it be appearance, personality, manner of speaking, etc. Now I have a new challenge – to create a complete “figment of my imagination” character. I like that idea!

  7. I absolutely love Jackie (your Jackie and blogger Jackie!) Well done, Maddie.

    My characters appear to me in dreams. Sometimes they get very vocal and will ague with me (and each other) in my dreams. Yes – I’m weird! 😀

    • Jackie is a pretty special lady for sure. She’s so genuine and goodhearted, she’s easy to love. Glad you like my Jackie character, too.

      I’m envious that your characters appear to you in dreams! I’ve never dreamed about mine. I’ll dream about creatures from video games, but never my characters. And they argue with you! That is really cool. 🙂

    • Aw, thank you Dianne, you are a pretty special lady too. 🙂

      I have dreamed of a few of my characters too! Isn’t that the weirdest experience? Especially when in the dream I feel like one of the characters in the book and not me at all. I’m just weird like that. LOL

  8. I don’t know if I could write a book, but if I based it on people I know I don’t think I could tell them, I’d probably end up being thumped. Oh, that doesn’t sound like I know nice people does it?

    I love your characters, they make me laugh and a book that actually makes you giggle aloud is a great book. x

    • I’ve asked permission from a couple of bloggers to use their names. One was obvious, a few others were more subtle. My family gets thrown in whether they like it or not. However, there are always so many different attributes and character traits, they really can’t claim them as their own – or want to throttle me because of them.

      Thank you for reading the books, Piper. I’m really happy you like my characters. 🙂

  9. Great post 😀 Gave me some good chuckles. I tend to come up with characters as I go through the book, on the fly I guess, a bad way to do it probably. Sometimes I see some of my friends or family’s traits popping out more often in some characters though 😀

    • I love writing on the fly. Some of the best characters and ideas come out that way. 🙂

      I just stopped by your blog – it’s lovely! I see your are chronicling your self-publishing journey. That’s why I started my blog as well. It’s been a fun ride of ups and downs – but mostly ups. I’m looking forward to reading your posts.

  10. I think I am very similar to you in the way I develop characters. I base things off people I know and exaggerate traits that I find intriguing. The book I am writing has a serial killer in it and he is based off my best friend. Hopefully that doesn’t cause any bitterness 😉

    • I think that’s fabulous you are basing your serial killer off your best friend! Does he know it? 🙂 I think that’s what makes fiction so much fun. We can take things from people we know/meet/observe and exaggerate them to come up with wonderful characters. So far, everyone who has found themselves to some extent in one of my books has been pleased.

  11. My characters often have bits of me in them. Those are the ones that seem the most realistic to other people who read my stories. My totally fiction characters fall flat

  12. Most writers, consciously or sub, will create characters loosely based on people they know. Agatha Christie often talked of demented elderly aunts who wouldn’t eat anything other than boiled eggs because they believed that you couldn’t poison an egg. Kerry Greenwood says she used her sister as a role model for her character, Phryne Fisher. Sometimes they will admit it.
    What about an elderly, but wise grannie for one of your characters?

  13. I have a problem adding a one sided character because I need a vehicle to express on particular point.
    And then it looks like a one-dimensional character.
    Hopefully one day I’ll grow out of that.

  14. I rarely base characters on people I know, for if I write something bad about them I’m afraid they’ll think THEY did something back and come over and “straighten” me out. But seriously, I have used only one or two friends as models for one of my novels. I have also based characters on Jafar (from Aladdin), a king on Aragorn, a scholar on Derek Jacobi, and a number of characters on old role playing partners. Does that count?

    • Jafar from Aladdin – what a great idea! Everything counts. 🙂 Characters based on people from my past are definitely tweaked so as not be too much like the real person, and present-day people usually know and approve before I publish. It works out pretty well.

  15. Most of the characters I create are based on at least some small snippet of myself or of somebody I know. Speaking only for myself, I find it difficult to come up with a realistic character if I try to create one out of thin air. I’ve tried that and I end up with one of those “cardboard characters.” (In my opinion, anyway.) But if I’ve based a character in some small or even large way on myself or someone else, then I have some guide for knowing what the character’s realistic reactions will be to certain situations and how they will conduct themselves in their daily lives.

    Of course, one needs to know where to draw the line. No matter how little or how much my characters have a real, living persons quirks or characteristics, I always give them the twists that make the characters my own. I also try to stay away from using any real-life conversation that the person may remember – unless I’ve told them in advance that I’m going to use it. Many’s the time that one of my friends has said something good, and I’ve responded with, “I’ve got to use that in a story! Do you mind?” I’ve yet to have anyone say no!”

    • Alannah, I agree with you!

      “But if I’ve based a character in some small or even large way on myself or someone else, then I have some guide for knowing what the character’s realistic reactions will be to certain situations and how they will conduct themselves in their daily lives.” — Yes! It makes writing so much easier (no matter if from a female or male perspective) to have this point of reference.

      I’m confident I haven’t crossed a line yet, but it is always something to be aware of. Thank you for your thoughts!

  16. I don’t think I’ve ever based a book characters on someone I know! I feel it restricts me somehow, and I don’t feel comfortable doing whatever I want with the character for fear of offending the person it’s based on!

    Your portrayal of Jackie is great though! 🙂

    • Zen, you are so creative to write your characters from scratch. I think everyone I’ve ever written has elements of someone I know or have known, but they are always “surface” elements. Nothing too deep.

      It would be easy to write a character based on you. 😉 She would be a bibliophile who worked in a sweet shoppe specializing in decadent chocolate confections. She would always have her latest paperback novel tucked in her apron, so she could read a page or two at every opportunity. She would wait on my main character a few times each week and help her think through something with her case or with her family or her relationship. She would be sweet and kind – and her boyfriend would live in another country. 😉

      It would be just enough of you to write a really fun character into a book. I think she would have to have purple hair, large dark eyes and rosy cheeks ala your Gravatar. 🙂

      • Haha, I absolutely LOVE the sound of that character! xD I hereby give your full rights and all my blessings to include it in your books should you ever decide to do so! 😀

  17. Haw! Reading that passage about Miss BWB (as in Blessed With) applying a little Pie Psychology made me roar with laughter!!– too much!

    Really enjoyed that interview, too. The thing that surprised me most was your writing without an outline. Just wingin’ it as a Pantster (as in Flying By The Seat Of). You must have a highly organized subconscious capable of amazing feats of integration and editorial direction!!

    FWIW: I’m a Pantster myself, even when I’m in Scotland (tho I’d probably look good in a kilt with my great legs).

    Nice to learn a bit more about one of my favorite authors and her approach to her craft!! : )

    • Thanks for reading the post and the interview, Mark. Being a Pantster is great until you get stuck. I’m skipping a scene right now, because the girls don’t want to do what I’m trying to get them to do!

      It’s probably warmer to be a Pantster in Scotland. 😉

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