I’m in the midst of crazy revisions on the first book in the Girlfriends of Gotham series today – Men and Martinis… Which has me thinking a lot about Swoon Romance, my publisher for this series. That’s why it’s fitting that on the Meet the Characters Blogfest I mentioned the other day, one of my “publishing sisters” is introducing us to her main character! Check it out here… Zadie Stonebrook (love that name!) from My Sister’s Reaper by Dorothy Dreyer!
I read an interesting post this morning by Cristian Mihai, who writes a blog full of good writing-related advice and the occasional quandary. Today he wrote about writers working to separate their work from their true selves, and why that might not always be the best plan.
This is something that resonates with me. I have always wanted to “be a writer”… that was the one thing I’ve ever been sure of. But I hesitated to ever write any of the things that mattered most to me for fear that I would be implicated in my own words, or worse — that I would drag in someone else from my life who didn’t necessarily want to be written about. I’ve come to realize that it is a risk that any writer must accept — that we may expose ourselves, or someone we love, through our work. I cannot write about a life and people that I don’t know. I can only imagine so much. I can only research so much. And I don’t think I’m alone. I would guess that even the most well-researched historical fiction must carry some part of the writer in it. A character, a trait, an experience, maybe. And if not, does the work feel “real”?
I’ve given up trying to keep myself separate. Instead, I’ve begun to embrace characters who have some of my quirks and those who seem to share common histories with me. I think I’ll do a better job writing about these kindred spirits than I would writing about someone who I purposely forced away from me.
That’s not to say that we, as writers, shouldn’t try to write a variety of people — a whole book full of Delanceys wouldn’t be terribly interesting.
What about you? Do you purposefully try to divorce yourself from your characters? Or do you find elements of your own life, loved ones and situations seeping into your stories?
How do you create characters? This has always been an interesting question for me. When I was little, maybe out of some kind of loneliness — but more likely just because I was a weird little kid — I used to write character sketches. I liked to create whole people, noting down everything I could think of about them. I liked to pretend that I knew these people, and thought it was exciting to play God with them, to get to decide every little detail about them (right down to the part where they thought I was the coolest deity ever!) I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically practicing for building out characters for my later stories, and I still use a lot of what I discovered was useful back then.
That said, I still struggle sometimes with realizing my characters — keeping them rounded and fully dimensional. We’re users, as writers. We create characters often because we need them to do something, to move the story forward, to be a certain thing and serve a greater purpose. And when I’ve built someone and used them in this selfish way, sometimes I drop them like yesterday’s fish dinner, forgetting that they must go on to some degree to be believable.
So here’s the question — or the thought at least. And be warned, it isn’t exceptionally original except that I’ve only just thought of it myself in the context of my own work: Do you write people who you know in real life?
Here’s why I’m really asking. I’m in a creative tornado right now, where I am filled with ideas and keep starting lots of things, some of which I’ll continue to work on, and some of which are useful only in their own moment. One of these things is a middle-grade story that would be interesting to my own kids. Starring? Two boys who mysteriously share quite a few character and personality traits with two other little boys who I know quite well. Coincidentally the two boys in the story are brothers. Okay, it isn’t a coincidence at all. It’s an experiment to see if the characters I base unabashedly on real people are more lifelike and multifaceted than those who I create from thin air. These boys are older than my own, because my two year old still doesn’t express himself too clearly and having a lot of dialogue where the younger brother says things like, “A hafta shaff go nuff POO!” would probably not keep readers engaged.
Have you tried this before? How did it work for you?