Character Development

A while back, I put forth a general call for questions about writing that people might want to ask me, and, er, I just remembered that I had the list stored, so I thought I’d answer one! :)

Heather asks: Character inspirations – from whom did you draw the personality traits of Joanne, Gary, Morrison, Margrit, Alban, Janx, Daisani, etc.

This one’s particularly entertaining because Heather’s a high school friend of mine who has never been able to see herself or anybody she knows in any of my characters, so is wondering if she missed anybody. :)

She hasn’t, actually. There’s a school of thought which says “I am writer, insult me and I will eviscerate you in prose.” I’m much more of the “insult me and I totally won’t ever write you into anything” school of thought, because why would I want to reward somebody I didn’t like with that kind of presence in my books? But in fact, there are very few characters who are based on anybody I know, or even amalgamations of them.

As it happens, Gary *is* based, extremely loosely, on a totally awesome cab driver I met in Kenai. An old dude named, I think, Bill, who it turned out was friends with my maternal grandmother and had some great stories about her that he shared with me while driving me around town one day. Anyway, he was a tremendously good-hearted soul, and an old man, and full of vigor and kindness, and he’s a great deal of where Gary came from. I’ve no idea, of course, if he’d have been so phlegmatic in the face of magic as Gary is, but that’s fiction for you.

There’s a character in the Strongbox Chronicles who is wholesale, lock stock and barrel, a friend of mine. I spent years wondering why she had never commented only to eventually find out she’d never been able to find the books. Other friends, however, recognized her. :)

Other than that–I steal people’s names sometimes. Kate and Ursula in the Old Races books are named after my friends IrishKate and UrsulaV. I didn’t necessarily intend to keep the names, but I *never* intended to keep the name Gary (who was named after my father in law) and look what happened there. :) But the personalities aren’t at all based on the people, and–well, for example, let’s take Morrison.

I wanted Morrison to be an alpha male. A take charge kind of guy, somebody whom others respect and listen to. However, certainly in paranormal romance fiction, and in a great deal of romantic fiction I’ve encountered, “alpha male” translates directly to “raging asshole”. Vast numbers of them are people I would never, ever want to spend time with, nevermind get into a romantic relationship with. Most of them I’d rather cross the Grand Canyon on a sky bridge, and I’m terrified of heights, than talk with. And I don’t know about you, but I know plenty of alpha men who are not hopeless jackasses. So Morrison’s personality grew out of wanting to write an alpha male who wasn’t an utter dickhead. I wanted him to be, oh, you know. A person. I like to think I’ve succeeded. :)

Margrit’s personality grew out of needing to create someone different from Joanne. Joanne’s a skeptic, hard to convince of anything, dithers and whines a lot even after she’s nominally made a decision (or did early on; I think she’s outgrown that); Margrit is decisive, difficult to distract, and once she commits to something is determined to see it through to the end regardless of the cost. Alban was meant to be a much more romantic (if slightly stalkery) hero than Morrison; he’s alone, obsessed with his perception of nobility, and reluctant to embroil anyone in his troubles (whereas Morrison, as a police captain, is pretty much made to choose the best people to send into trouble).

Janx and Daisani–particularly Janx, with his oozing charm–are an answer to an archetype I flipping love. They’re very deliberately the kinds of characters they are; their personalities practically come wholesale with the archetype. The trick is (was) writing that archetype–the bastardly Prince Charming, the honor-ridden criminal–well, because really, these are not nice people. They’ll kill you as soon as look at you, if they find you inconvenient or your death is expedient. One of the greatest compliments I got about those characters was from a friend who said words to the effect of “They’re so goddamn likeable and then they turn around and do something totally cold-blooded and ruthless and in the face of all sentimentality and you go AGH NOT HUMAN AFTER ALL! about them.” I was very, very pleased with that.

Those are the kinds of places character personalities grow out of for me. Belinda’s an assassin with one (sort of) redeeming quality, which is her unflinching loyalty. She’ll do anything in the name of that loyalty, and I find her honorable for that. Not nice, not good, and not somebody you want to piss off, but honorable. Javier, on the other hand, I see primarily as weak. (There are not, frankly, a lot of good guys in the Inheritors’ Cycle.) Sacha *is* the alpha male that I didn’t want Morrison to be, except he’s not as smart as he thinks he is; Eliza is the woman defined by her beauty who deserves better. I frequently start with for character development: a specific characteristic that I want as the grounding detail, the basic thrust, of who a character is.

So in truth I very rarely take character traits or personalities from people I know, or I certainly don’t do it consciously. I think it’d actually be harder to try to lift entire personalities all the time, because then I’d be psychoanalyzing all my friends trying to figure out what makes them tick and uh I totally don’t do that anyway…O.O

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4 thoughts on “Character Development

  1. This may be because of the fantasy genre, but I find that once you have the basic physical attributes worked out, their character is moulded naturally from them. Then, season with some character traits, and they’ll come alive quite easily. None of my characters are based on anyone I know of.

    At least I don’t think I know any three-foot-tall, permanently sugar-rushed warrior girls who just want to learn berserking techniques only her dad won’t let her. I mean, I’d notice wouldn’t I?

    1. At least I don’t think I know any three-foot-tall, permanently sugar-rushed warrior girls who just want to learn berserking techniques only her dad won’t let her. I mean, I’d notice wouldn’t I?

      I don’t know. Do you have a toddler? :)

  2. The thing I have always loved about Daisani and Janx is that one’s a treasure-hoarding businessman in a penthouse skyscraper, and the other runs an underworld gambling house. And it’s the vampire who’s the former, and the dragon who’s the latter, which totally goes against the general mythological/urban fantasy tropes.

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