Spinning Characters from Strands of You, You, You and … You!
Who hasn’t seen that amusing T-shirt with “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel” stamped across its front?
The playful warning sparks one of the questions I hear most as an author: “Where do you get ideas for your characters?”
I must admit that, for years, I was preparing for the day I could populate a novel with characters spun from the best parts of all the people I’d known. While they were passing through my life, unwittingly shedding bits and pieces of themselves, I was discreetly following with my broom and dustpan, sweeping their priceless fallout into my author’s bag of tricks.
But … now that I’ve come clean about where my characters came from, please don’t ask me which of their parts came from whom. Any mystery author worth her weight in red herrings and cliffhangers never tells. Or rather, she doesn’t unless she’s writing a blog about crafting fictional characters. In that case, she has no choice but to throw those red herrings off a cliff.
To be honest, when it comes to some of my jaunty supporting characters, I am not above borrowing traits from some of my closest friends. For example, Crystal’s buddy, Judge Auggie Stillwater, bears a striking resemblance to my judge friend, Kathy. And the best part about that is, Kathy doesn’t mind! She calls friends “buddy,” and is often heard uttering “cool beans.” Auggie has adopted both expressions, and Kathy hasn’t made a federal case of it.
Another friend of mine, Lu — a feisty, diminutive octogenarian with no shortage of pluck — holds a private investigator’s license AND she’s a clown. I doubt I could have dreamed up a quirkier, more likable character. With her blessing, I infused a couple of my characters with some of her life experience, the result being Gertie Tyroo and Patti Jones. Thanks, Lu!
Another recurring character I’m especially fond of is Bud, the colorful, greasy spoon restaurateur — cigarette dangling off his lower lip, grouchy disposition, scruffy five o’clock shadow. Typically, I wouldn’t transfuse so much of a friend’s personality into a fictional character. However, in this case, the real-life Bud had been an actor, who guest starred on numerous, popular TV dramas. So I’m certain if he were still living, he’d be totally onboard with guest starring in the Elmwood Confidential series. In fact, he probably would be giving me tips.
Not everyone is so eager to be depicted as a cozy mystery story prop. That’s why a legal statement is routinely inserted into the front of novels. This one appears in both of mine:
“This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincident
Regardless of the disclaimer, it’s my policy not to model an unsavory character in the image of a person I know. Nor would I borrow their flaws or less-than-admirable idiosyncrasies. However, there is one real-life individual I’ve excluded from this policy.
It’s no secret that in developing characters, authors have a penchant for infusing their protagonists with some of their own personality traits, preferences, and prejudices. Likewise, their antagonists often harbor various aspects of the author’s dark side.
Why? Why, it’s fun!
It’s particularly been fun writing my protagonist, Crystal Cropper. She is fond of wisecracks, vanilla milkshakes, and frozen entrees — just like me. On the flip side, she is impatient, snarky, and stays up much too late. Also like me. Nevertheless, Crystal is her own, unique woman. She possesses an abundance of traits that are hers alone, which she revealed to me as we progressed first through “Dust Bunnies & Dead Bodies” and then “Dead Air & Double Dares.” For instance, when she boasted about her fling with Mr. Burt Reynolds in Book 1, frankly, I was jealous. And when, in Book 2, she found out she was a grandmother, I was as astonished as she was.
So there it is — some insight to where my characters come from. They lurk everywhere — in the house next door, sitting across the kitchen table, at the office, on the TV screen, sitting on a park bench. And they come in fragments or fully formed, at a turning point moment or with an entire backstory.
No one is immune from ending up in my novel. So be careful, or it might be you. •
Now let me tell about Janis’ new book!
Dead Air and Double Dares by Janis Thornton
Cup of Tea Books, an imprint of PageSpring Publishing (June 18, 2017)
Number of Pages 241
E-BOOK ASIN: B071L28F34
Crystal Cropper, editor of the Elmwood Gazette, has added incentive in finding out who killed Horace Q. Ogilvie, owner of the local radio station and the most reviled man in town. Horace turns up dead minutes before he is supposed to broadcast his next malicious editorial, designed to destroy yet another Elmwood luminary. Fortunately for the police department, Horace’s list of future targets provides an abundant pool of suspects. Unfortunately for Crystal, her name is at the top!
About This Author
Janis Thornton is a freelance writer, personal historian, and award-winning journalist. She is the author of two local history books, Images of America: Tipton County and Images of America: Frankfort. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Indiana Writers Center, Association of Personal Historians, and the Midwest Writers Workshop Planning Committee. She lives in a small Indiana town not unlike Elmwood.
Purchase Link – Amazon
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