Chatting with friends about one of my novels, one of them asked the question many writers dread: where do you get your ideas and who do you base your characters on?
I thought one of my characters had elements of someone I used to know, the flashes of anger and general air of arrogance smacked of this individual and I have to be honest, I with that realisation I suddenly hated this character.
I never thought any of my characters were based on people I knew. Certainly I’ve used phrases or words I’ve heard but never fully based on one person. However during the course of the conversation my friend who had read my ms suggested one of the possible love interests for the main character sounded a lot like someone I’ve left in my past. My friend knew some of the horrible things this person did to me and she picked up on these traits in my character. At first I’ll admit I was a little upset. You have to know your characters, live the story with them and when you all come out the other side, you can’t help loving them a little. That suggestion sent me into all sorts of Freudian over thinking and analysis. Did I really care for the person who had caused me years of upset and pain? No, after much thought I didn’t but the realisation of the similarities made me want to punish the character in a way that I couldn’t in real life. I even went through a week where I considered killing off this character, but I knew he was a great protagonist and while he drove my main character crazy, at the same time this character was essential to the story.
I left my MS, stepping away from the editing and writing other characters, other worlds but the nagging remained. It’s ok to hate your characters but you also have to love them a little because then your readers will to. We can also hope that they create a positive influence on those in real life. Then it hit me, the character, whilst sharing many traits of a person I once knew, wasn’t actually that person: they were the person I wished they would become in real life, an amalgamation of their negativity but being able to control their anger, therefore they could offer their support and become a positive force in my life as they do by the end of my story for my main character. Perhaps, if they should ever read my work, they will see the negative traits and learn the error of their ways.
Your characters become your friends. Certainly there’s some people in my head who are the only people to know my darkest fears or experience my happiest moments on a level no one else can. I know that despite whatever I may throw at them and even though they may hate me for a short while, we are a family and while some characters may decide to leave me at the end of their story, choosing to visit from time to time like a reunion, there are others whose power and courage I can draw on so that even on the darkest of nights, I’m never really alone.