There is one thing almost everyone wants to know about a story, so when they see an author, they usually ask, ‘Who’s the inspiration of your characters?’ which is a polite way of asking ‘How many of your relatives are copy-pasted into your story?!’ And the answer most of us authors give you curious and polite readers, is: ‘I might have had my second second cousin in mind for one of my characters, but they’re all based on my imagination!’ which is, erm, not exactly true!
Of course, there are more honest authors who would answer: ‘Actually, my first character’s life is mainly based on my own, or I’ve had this friend in college who had this unique personality, or my grandfather once told me this amazing story about the time he was a soldier in Russian fronts, blabla…’ And I, my dear curious friends, am in this group!
Wait! I did not just say that we only write our neighbors and colleagues; I can assure you that none of my cousins is a fashion designer, I’ve never met a Mafioso, I have no twins in my family, and no one that I know has ever been in love with a sibling. So, yes, the whole famiglia in my book series is ‘based on my imagination!’ Yet, my main character – however a guy – looks like me quite a lot, according to my friends who have read the story. And almost every other character has an avatar in my real life! Not copy-pasted; we just pick some people who have ‘unique personalities’, crop, cut, rotate, and do a hundred other tricks to fit in our little fairylands; as a result, if that person in question reads our stories, no way in hell will they recognize themselves in their new costumes!
Don’t get me wrong; the most amazing fictional characters are based on real people. It’s like stories based on real events. Actually, they can tell you a lot about the author, how crafty he or she is to turn a real-life event or person into an everlasting phenomenon which remains with you for the rest of your life.
The reason why I decided to start writing about ‘writing’ with the character was that in my idea, most of the stories today are character-oriented. Sometimes – and believe me, I have seen this! – there is no plot, no subject, no theme, and miraculously the character is all there is! So, although I believe that the plot and the character need to have the same weight and value in a story, plotting is not very popular these days, so…
Adopting them from the environment, good idea or bad idea?
Pay attention here; I said adopting, not re-writing! And remember, your second second cousin needs to have one hell of a personality to be adapted to a fictional character, because we all have that friend who’s told us how dramatic their life has been. ‘My life is like a story!’ they say. ‘You should use it in your next book.’
Now, should you?
Let me see; my mother had this childhood friend, who was beautiful and intelligent and talented, then her parents married her to an old man when she was hardly 17; soon he started cheating on her, beating her up, torturing her and she endured this life with three kids, until she could get a divorce, then she started living alone, got her college degree, practiced law, took care of her daughters who all got married and divorced. She bought a farm, bred dogs, had a shotgun for protecting herself, and whenever she saw me, she said, ‘You should write the story of my life one day!’
Not until today. I just told you the story of her life. It’s interesting, true, but is it worth writing? Only if I adapt her character, and her husband’s, and change a few things to add more drama, it might be a book worth reading. For instance, let’s add a love interest, a cliché, the eighteen-year-old neighbors’ son who was in love with her when she was seventeen, or to make it more colorful we can bring this guy back to the story when she’s married and being beaten up and cheated day and night, and he’s married now, but still in love with her…
I guess I’m starting to have your attention! Right?
Why? Because her personality is qualified to be adapted, but the story of her life has nothing to offer for a good read. So, we pick her, but she needs to be trimmed, cropped, cut, we need a background for her, a history, she needs ambitions, flaws, traits to make us both love and hate her, because no one in real life is either black or white, pure or evil, so why should we have black or white characters in a story? Characters need flaws, no one is perfect, we all have skeletons hidden in our closets, so let’s re-build my mother’s friend until we have a brand new character who just reminds us of her, in a way.
I think we need to talk about it more later!
So, let’s keep her on hold, for now!
I’ll be back with a character-dresser kit soon!