Where Do Characters Come From?
When a writer writes a book where do the characters come from? Are they from real life? Are they completely made up? I think it’s a really interesting question and it’s one I’m often asked.
Every writer is different, but my characters are usually a bit of a mix of both. My starting point with a book is always what is going to happen and where it is set (some writers start with a character or set of characters but that’s not the way my mind works, I definitely start with the plot). After that I start thinking about the characters e.g. whether the characters are shy or outgoing, brave or timid, practical or dizzy etc. and then I start thinking of people in real life that I know like that and that helps me fill in details and really ‘see’ the character. I always like to feel I know how my character would act in all different situations before I start writing and that’s where thinking of people I know really helps. I then work out how many brothers and sisters they have, what their family life is like, how they feel about their mum, dad, best friends etc. As I think about all these things the character forms in my head and becomes very real.
So, my characters are usually a mix of my imagination with bits taken from people I know. There have been a few exceptions though when characters have been more directly inspired by people in real life. The very first novels I wrote Bright Lights and Centre Stage are about a girl called Sophie and she was based on a girl called Sophie who used to come to a drama group I taught at. She was a fantastic actress with an equally talented brother and sister and I started wondering what would happen if one of the family got an amazing part in a film or in the West End. How would it affect them all? What really happens to your life when a dream comes true? That was where the starting point for the idea. There were differences – in my book Sophie was the youngest, whereas in real life the Sophie I knew was the middle child, and the brother and sister in my books were very different from the ones in real life but I certainly always saw the real Sophie in my head when I was writing the story!
And when I started writing Superpowers, a series for boys that I wrote under the name Alex Cliff, I was writing it for a couple of boys I knew – Max Hayward and Finlay Yates. I decided to make the boys in the books just like them and even to give them exactly the same names. The real Max and Fin loved it when the books came out. The strange thing was I was writing the book when the real Max and Fin were five but the Max and Fin in the books were eight so I was imagining what the real Max and Fin would be like in three years time. When the real Max and Fin got to be eight they were ended up eerily like the two characters in the book – spooky!
Of course I also use bits of myself in my characters too. I loved writing the character of Erin in my Sky Horses series because she was like I was when I was growing up – quiet, living in her head, imaginative, passionate about horses and believing in magic. Ellie, in Loving Spirit, is more like I am now. She’s probably the character that is most like me, although she is more outspoken and hot tempered! I almost never lose my temper whereas Ellie does it all the time! Sometimes it can be really fun to write a character who is the person you would LIKE to be – brave, intrepid, never put off by anything, popular, funny… I think characters like that are definitely the easiest main characters to write because they always get into scrapes and have things happen to them and have adventures. Quiet, timid characters are far harder to write as a main character in my experience!
Anyway, that’s my thoughts on characters! What about all of you? Do you put yourself into stories? Do you write characters based on people you know or do you make your characters up from scratch? Let me know!
PS Thanks to Laura Harrison for inspiring this post!