Monday, March 28, 2011
Are Your Characters Real?
To a writer, this seems like an obvious question... Duh, no, they are characters, they are not real.
Well that's not what I am talking about. What I am asking is could your character exists in real life?
The answer to this question may not be as obvious. Some writers do use characters from real life, but unless it is a biography, there is some peril in doing so. I think we've all heard the stories about writers who asked permission to use a friend as a character, yet when the character showed up on the page, and the description wasn't as glowing as the friend thought it would be, it was a source of extreme irritation.
I try not to do that.
Though I may have borrowed an interesting characteristic from a friend once in a while, (without them knowing), I don't use enough so that they would recognize themselves. I blend them together.
So if your characters are not borrowed from real people, that means they are made up. They are inventions, and that's OK.
My question is, could they be real people?
If the answer is yes, then I think you probably have a believable character, but there is a flip side to that. Do you have an interesting character?
If you model your character after a person that you might meet everyday, that could have a chilling effect on your novel. There has to be something unique about that character that makes them interesting. But unless you are writing science fiction or fantasy, it cannot be so unique that the person literally could not exist.
It's like trying to come up with a new flavor of ice cream. You can add strawberry, to mango, or chocolate to vanilla, but adding roast beef to strawberry is probably not going to work out so well. Don't try to make them so unique that it doesn't work.
For instance I think it's highly unlikely that you could have a Geisha character that was also a heavyweight body builder. The two don't mix.
Keep your characters interesting. Don't make them too bland, but don't stretch the boundaries so far that they become impossible either. It's not easy, but it is a key attribute of great writers.
How about you? How do you stretch your characters but keep them real? Do you have any examples of ones that didn't work for you?