Monday, June 21, 2010

Part Character/Part Author

A question authors are often asked is, "Are your characters based on yourself?" or "How much of 'character x' is a part of you?" or "Is 'character x' like you?"

While it is true beginning writers may take the "write what you know" advice pretty literally, to the point where they make themselves into their protagonists, experienced writers spread their wings and exercise their imaginations to create characters and story lines. When someone asks me one of the above questions I usually respond with a simple negative answer or with a comment something like, "Not really. I invented 'character x' completely."

Most often I would say my characters are composites of real and fictional people. Characters need to be real enough to appeal to readers, to be identifiable to them, but they must be intriguing enough to surpass the mundaneness of the normal, everyday life most of us lead.

Let's create a character to see how it might begin. First a name--Alvin Weidemacher. His interests--computer gaming, selling software, skateboarding. His vital statistics--24, 5'10'', curly brown hair, brown eyes, freckles, perpetually single, wears jeans and software logo tee shirts. Prefers Internet friends to real-life friends, allergic to cats and grass pollen.

You're getting a picture of Alvin already, aren't you? Does the stereotype "nerd" enter your mind? It does mine.

Now comes the creative part. Alvin isn't only a nerd, he's a nerd who makes a lot of money, a top game designer for software companies, something he considers a hobby while considering his day job selling software to be his real job. Alvin donates every dime he earns selling his game designs to two charities, one which helps children suffering from cancer and another seeking to find a cure to alzheimer's disease. His mother has alzheimer's, and he takes care of her.

Alvin's not just a nerd anymore.

Learn more about Alvin by interviewing him. Ask him any question which comes to mind. Within an hour, the writer knows Alvin very well.

Is he a protagonist worthy of his own story? Is he a bit character in another story? Or is he too dull and insignificant to be used in any story at all? Writers, it's your decision. Readers, this is one way writers may manufacture an individual you watch come to life in your novel or short story.

But then again, maybe the character you enjoy in your story is a total reflection of the author... We as readers never really know.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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