Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cassy's Corner- Where Do Your Characters Come From?


I have been thinking about characters and how they fit into our plots. Lately I have spent a large number of hours mixed between sitting and waiting and trying to take action. We have a family member who was hospitalized then transferred to an intermediate care facility. Now we are planning for what it takes to return to her home. All of that is really not the point.
I’ve written before about watching people and wondering what distinguishes someone in Italy versus New Hampshire. Well, the time I have recently logged in airports, hospitals, nursing homes, on the phone with arrangements has led me to again revisit the concept of “where ideas arise.”
Many of my books are of the mystery/suspense genres. By definition, someone is going to die, be tortured, get lost, or suffer in some uncomfortable manner. These last few weeks are great fodder for the mind of a writer as one sits for hours in a hospital trying to be patient (not the patient) and be reasonable with all of the staff who really aren’t helpful. Do I kill off the doctor who sanctimoniously offered his grave advice? It’s terrible to think of doing him in, but the leather jacket on one day and the blue velvet pants on another make him a great target, not to mention his age. Is this a character waiting to be written?
Then there was the mother in the toy store. We had to pick up a gift. She was dragging her about five-year old child from item to item demanding the little girl pick out something. The child was in tears, begging that she didn’t know what she wanted. The mother scolded that if the child couldn’t find something she’d go home with nothing. The child panicked some more. I almost couldn’t tolerate the situation. My husband took my hand for he knew I was about to jump in and tell the mother you don’t place a full candy shop in front of a small child and expect an adult decision-making process. Yup, I was ready to kill off the mother, or at least think of some life-redeeming event that would help her understand that at one level she had tortured her child.
Then, there was the slightly plump nurse’s aide. His gray hair was tied back in a long ponytail. He was cheerful, helpful, and ready to do the tasks many of us would rather not. He winked at me as we realized that the “stories” our patient told were from another time and place. He was kind without being patronizing. As I thought through plot lines I decided he clearly deserved to live.
I won’t go on about the security folks at the many airports. About the phone calls with faces I have never seen, but can imagine. About the rules that are totally obstructionistic. About the paperwork that makes one truly homicidal.
No, this is good stuff. I had to spend a few hours at the airport before my flight home as we had logistic issues. This was not a burden for there were so many people around me behaving in marvelously curious ways. Marvelous for they quickly became characters. Loud. Fat. Fussing. Complaining. Hugging. Crying. Rushing. Confused.
I’ve made notes. 
Characters are both a part of us, our friends and family and then definitely an influence of where we go and what we see. This becomes our writing. 
Do share. I love to hear about how you watch the world and how that becomes your writing.

6 comments:

Anita Clenney said...

I love people watching. I wish I had those tinted sunglasses so I could really watch and they wouldn't know. People really are so fascinating, and our characters should be too. We can take a lot of what we experience and use that to create characters who live and breath on the page.

Liz Lipperman said...

I am definitely a people watcher, too. Sometimes hubby will say, "You're listening to a conversation again, right?" He knows me well. I don't eavesdrop, but when they talk loud, I'm hooked.

My favorite characters are the ones who readers love. I fashion them after friends and family. Like you, my villains are people who have crossed me.

Cassy Pickard said...

Anita: I so agree with you. I have had friends who've asked if I've put them in my books. I have to lie. Why me? Do that? Ha!

Cassy Pickard said...

Liz: Oh, I evesdrop. Hopefully not so it's noticed. But when my husband repeats himself for the third time as we sit in a restaurant, his next comment usually is asking about who is doing what to whom at the next table.

Lindsay said...

When I go out to the store or Starbucks if I'm searching for a new character I will see what I can find. Lots of times I end up taking bits and pieces from different individuals to create the new character.

Cassy Pickard said...

Lindsay, I hear you! On top of the "real" characters out there, I love figuring out what else might be going on with them that is my pure imagination.

How fun is this!