Character Creation

On January 4th, my book blog tour stop was hosted by Sharing Links & Wisdom.  The post included an excerpt from DREAM WATERS (Book 1 of the Dream Waters series) and my thoughts on creating characters:

Character Creation 

The world is chock-full of characters. Personally, I’ve always been drawn to the quirky folks, the misfits, the people who march to the beat of their own drummer and don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. Those people make life interesting. What fun would it be if everybody followed the latest trends, dressed like the magazines told them to and behaved the way they were expected to? Characters with quirks make a story interesting. The good news is, you can find characters everywhere.

None of my characters are modeled after real people. That’s frowned upon…in fact, I think it can get you sued. That said, a few of my characters are loosely based on people I’ve come across in my lifetime. The two that jump to mind are Bob and Nellie in my debut novel, Dream Waters. When I first created them, they were one-dimensional. Charlie and Emma couldn’t be the only patients in the psychiatric facility, so I created Bob, Nellie and Frank to interact with them. Over the course of the story, Bob and Nellie did what respectable characters always do. They developed minds of their own and demanded that their stories become part of the narrative. Little did I know—when I created the crotchety senile old man who swears like a sailor and the shriveled old woman who’s constantly crooning squeaky-voiced lullabies to a child that isn’t there—those two characters would become the favorites of many of my readers.

Bob, my potty-mouthed television-obsessed senior citizen, was loosely based on a patient at a nursing home that my Girl Scout troop visited during the holiday season many moons ago. We went there to put on a talent show for the patients. Another girl scout and I both took ballet lessons (this was back when I was too young to realize that I wasn’t graceful, but that’s another story), so we choreographed a little dance routine. We showed up dressed in tutus borrowed from the ballet studio and the nursing home staff unplugged the television in the lounge to plug in our music. Let me just say, I’m a bit of an introvert. Performing in public has never been my thing. Imagine my horror when we began our routine and one extremely vocal gentleman spent the entire time hollering, “Plug in the T.V.! Plug in the T.V.!” That brief comedic moment of childhood trauma stuck with me and became the inspiration for Bob, the television-obsessed elderly mental patient. Bob then took on a life of his own because as any good character knows, real people are never one-dimensional. I’m sure that gentleman at the home is long since deceased, but I’d still like to thank him for inspiring me to create one of my most beloved characters. Bob doesn’t make an appearance in the second book of my series, but my readers loved him so much that I felt compelled to bring him back in Book Three. I think my readers will be pleased with the direction his story ultimately takes.

Nellie, my frizzy-haired squeaky-voiced old woman who spends her time rocking and singing to a child that no one else sees, was loosely based on a patient in a long-term care facility where I did a clinical rotation during pharmacy school. I never actually saw the woman because I was sitting in a backroom pouring over patient charts to make recommendations on their meds. While I sat there in my white lab coat quietly doing my thing, this elderly woman would sit in the hallway and repeat the words, “I want my baby. I want my baby…” After several choruses of this, the nurses would hand her something. I’m assuming it was a stuffed animal or a doll because I’m fairly confident they wouldn’t hand this woman an actual baby. Shortly after they’d give her the “baby” she’d start in with, “Please take my baby. Please take my baby…” That also stuck with me enough to find its way into my first novel. After I introduced her to the story, Nellie took matters into her own hands and ended up playing a pivotal role in the narrative.

Like I said, characters are everywhere. As a writer, I appreciate them for the precious gems that they are, and I don’t mean that sarcastically. No living breathing person is ever one-dimensional. The humorous or terrifying quirks that initially define them are nothing but first impressions. Every character, living or pen-and-ink, has a story to tell. Every life matters, and I for one try never to forget that the grouchy customer at the pharmacy counter may have a sick child they were up all night with, or an elderly spouse who’s slowly slipping away before their eyes. Our life experiences are what shape us into the characters that we become. It’s a writer’s job to remember that and craft their characters accordingly. Giving them past struggles and heartaches is the way to breathe life into them so that they step off the page and into the reader’s heart.

Check out the complete post & leave a comment for another chance to win the $50 Amazon/B&N gift card at the end of my tour!