On Writing and Creativity: Who Are Our Characters?


[Warning:  This post touches on an emotional political issue in order to illustrate a point.  I do NOT want the comments on this post to devolve into political debate.  This is ultimately a post about writing and character work.  Please refrain from commenting on the political stuff beyond how it relates to character work.  Comments that are polemical or divisive, whether or not they agree with my personal political views, will be deleted. Thank you.  We now return to our regularly scheduled Monday post…]

There is a moment late in the second Thieftaker book, Thieves’ Quarry (due out July 2 from Tor), in which my protagonist, Ethan Kaille, explains to another character all that has happened in the previous days and how the magic wielded by the “bad guy” contributed to a series of attacks and deaths.  When he is finished, he and the character in question have the following exchange:

    For some time after Ethan finished his tale, Geoffrey sat unmoving, watching him.

    “I don’t know whether to thank you for all you’ve done, or to ban you from this house and demand that you never return,” he said, his glare smoldering in the candlelight.

    Ethan stared back at him, unsure of what he had done to earn such a response. “I don’t understand. I didn’t–”

    “It’s not a matter of what you did or didn’t do,” Geoffrey said. “But if this power you wield can give and take life with such ease . . .” He shook his head. “How can such a thing not be evil?”

    “I carry a knife on my belt,” Ethan said. “I can take a life with it. Does that make the knife evil? Or does the question of good or evil fall to the man holding the blade?”

Immediately after I wrote this passage, I sat back in my desk chair and came close to deleting the whole thing.  Why?  Because the argument Ethan makes in that moment, is the classic argument used by the National Rifle Association to combat gun control measures that I support.  “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”  Ethan is basically saying the same thing about his magic.  More, by implication he is saying that people like me who support gun control, would be the same people calling for his execution simply because he’s “a witch.”  That was a very hard pill for me to swallow.

For a number of reasons, I wound up keeping the passage.  The lines work; the conversation is well-written, it flows nicely.  But most to the point, it is exactly what Ethan would say.  And while this might mean that were he alive today, he and I would be on opposite sides of the gun debate, so be it.  Ethan is his own person.

And that, of course, is the most important part of this post. 

Who are our characters?  The assumption made by so many readers is that our characters are us in some way.  Actually, it’s not just readers.  Some time back I asked a writer friend (Kate Elliott) to read a manuscript that I had written in first person POV. She enjoyed the book and particularly liked the voice.  “It drew me in so much,” she later told me, “that I found myself thinking ‘Wow, does David really believe these things?’ I had to remind myself that I was reading a character’s thoughts and not yours.”  It was a high compliment, but it also made the point that even those of us who do this for a living sometimes forget that there is distance between the author and the people s/he writes about.

Now, I am not saying that authors have nothing in common with their characters, nor do I deny that for some very fine authors, their characters truly are reflections of themselves.  I will also admit that in a few respects, Ethan and I are very much alike.  He responds emotionally much the way I would to certain events or statements.  But we are not clones.  How could we be?  He is a man of the 18th century.  He is an ex-convict, an ex-military man.  He has been through the living hell of prison and forced labor.  He has no family, few friends.  And he puts his life at risk on a near daily basis.  None of those things is true of me.  If we were too much alike, it would mean that my character work was deeply flawed.

As I have said before, I am often asked if I model any of my characters after people I know.  I don’t, and the reason is this:  whenever I have tried in the past to create a character based on a “real” person, I have found that my character work suffers.  I start to feel constricted in what I can do with that character because I know that s/he is supposed to be like “X.”  For me, the most gratifying part of creating a character is that moment when s/he comes alive and starts to do things that I neither anticipated nor necessarily wanted.  That moment, which I have called “the quickening,” is magical.  It tells me that my character is, on some level, a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person.  The problem with creating characters based on “real” people is the inherent assumption that characters AREN’T real.  They are.  They have to be.  Or else their story will fall flat.

So, who are our characters?  The answer sounds like the worst kind of syllogism, but it’s really not.  They are themselves.  They are people with histories and beliefs. They are people with a lifetime of experiences; they have lived through triumphs and failures, moments of elation and darkest grief.  They are flawed and scarred, but also resourceful and strong.  They are products of their time in history, their cultures and societies whether real or imagined.  Really, unless they have somehow lived the same lives we have, they can’t be like us.  They should not react to every situation as we would.  They should not believe all the things we do.  It makes no sense that they would.  Each character is his or her own person, which is exactly why other people want to read about them.

When Ethan spoke those lines that bothered me so much, he forced me to confront a startling and troubling reality.  It wasn’t just that Ethan isn’t like me.  I’ve known that all along, and I’ve gone to great lengths to make him his own person.  What bothered me was the possibility that, were we to meet, he and I might not get along.  And that was just weird.

How about you?  In what ways to you differ from your protagonist?  Can you point to things that s/he has said or done that you know you would have handled differently?  Does it ever bother you to find you and your characters are so different (or, perhaps, so similar)?

David B. Coe

31 comments to On Writing and Creativity: Who Are Our Characters?

  • Great post! And it touches on some character-building struggles I’ve had of late…

    When I’m first creating my characters, especially those that I write in first person, I go out of my way to give them details that differ from me in great ways. These are truly details — e.g., Jane Madison likes oolong tea, which I find too smoky for regular drinking. But these little things keep me constantly “on”, remembering to make Jane Jane.

    (As for the possibility of not liking your character — your post is about how you and Ethan differ. You’re not concentrating on all the ways that you’re the same — you’re moral men who defend those in need and follow through on intellectual quests to better understand your worlds… I suspect that you and Ethan would agree to disagree on certain topics, then build a friendship on the foundation that you do share… At least, that’s what I think would happen with some of my characters and me…)

  • Ah, politics and religion…the two most damaging concepts to friendships ever, says I. 😉

    Going on your thoughts about that difference between you and Ethan, it isn’t necessarily that they are a part of us, although there are facets that are. It’s that at the end of the day, we can at least put ourselves in their shoes, see things from their perspective, wear their skin, so to speak, and understand their stances, whether we agree with them or not.

    And that’s a good thing. It not only is a good skill to master in writing solid characters, but it also is a good skill to master, period. You can’t have true, successful debate on a subject without it. Otherwise it’s just mindless shouting matches with fingers in ears going, “LA-LA-LAAA!”

    I try not to let my beliefs dictate who I’m friends with. Easier to just keep ‘em to myself. Everyone’s got differences of opinion, don’t mean we can’t sit back with a good drink, some good food, and a fun movie and hang out. Just avoid the buzz words. 😉

    I do sometimes get weirded out with both the similarities to my characters in their highest highs and lowest lows, and those differences that do at times make me wonder if I would truly be capable of those things if the need arose. Especially when putting on the Edgar Suit ( 😉 ) and playing the dark antagonist. I sometimes feel greasy after getting my head out of that role and have to walk away from the project for a bit. My Noir hero has just horrid moments that I’m not sure I could even consider doing, but I also feel his remorse at having to do them. He’s one of the most tortured and damaged souls I’ve ever written. I sometimes find that exploring those differences in my characters helps me understand them somewhat, even if I can’t embrace them.

    This might be another reason why I write romance. Trying to relate with the female character and those differences and similarities. I’ve been told I do a good job. Hopefully, my eventual readership will agree. 🙂

  • […] Mindy Klasky, John Hartness, Kalayna Price, and James Tuck, among others. The post is called “On Writing and Creativity: Who Are Our Characters?” In it I discuss the work I do to give my characters personalities, emotions, and even opinions that […]

  • […] Mindy Klasky, John Hartness, Kalayna Price, and James Tuck, among others. The post is called “On Writing and Creativity: Who Are Our Characters?” In it I discuss the work I do to give my characters personalities, emotions, and even opinions that […]

  • TwilightHero

    Naturally, this is something that bothered me about my protagonist: after a while, I realized that of all my characters, he was the most like me. Not that this is a bad thing of course, but I don’t want him to be too much like me. Characters should be their own people. So I imagined us meeting, wondered what differences might crop up, what dynamic we might have. And it turns out, our main difference is, surprisingly…he’s more honest. With me, as with any stranger, he’d be polite but wary, and not bothering to hide that wariness. He’d be slow to irritation, let alone anger – something we share – but he’d be less worried about hiding what he felt. He’d care less what I thought of him than vice versa.

    And this surprised me a great deal, because I never consciously planned that part of him. Of course he goes through all sorts of dangerous situations, and has to make choices over the course of the story that I hope never to have to make. His self-confidence isn’t all there from the start; it develops over time.

    But the traits we choose for our heroes reflect what we would want for ourselves. I think it says something about me, that when creating another version of myself, the primary difference between us was that that other version didn’t care so much what people thought of him.

  • Mindy, thanks. Those little details — our taste in tea, our ways of speaking or the little physical traits that set each of us apart — can be crucial in creating a character and making certain that s/he is not simply a clone of the author. They can also be tons of fun to play with. But this is one of the reasons why I spend so much time builkding my characters from the ground up even before I start to write.

    Daniel, that empathy of which you speak — that ability to put ourselves in our characters’ shoes — is crucial to good writing. And yes, it’s a valuable skill in all facets of life. Years ago, on this site, I wrote a post called “Befriending your Characters” or something like that, and it was all about how the same skills that make us good friends to the people in our lives, make us good writers and allow us to delve into our characters. Thanks as always for the comment.

    Twilight, that’s a fascinating thought, and I think you’re right that at least some of the time we give our heroes attributes that we wish we possessed in greater abundance. I admire Ethan’s courage, his resilience, his resourcefulness, and yes, his ability to be his own person without worrying about the opinions of others. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I definitely see it. Thanks!

  • My protagonist is quite different from me in most ways–in fact, she’s so different that I had to work hard to understand her reactions and emotions. In fact, at one point I decided to make her the non-POV character since she was so hard for me to understand, but she bullied her way into staying front and center (which I would never do!). Lately, however, I’ve come to see the ways we are alike, and now I think we share a lot in terms of our motivation. But our pasts are very different, so while we both may have wanted the same thing, we ended up with completely different ways of trying to achieve that goal and of measuring our success in attaining it.

  • David,
    Lovely post. I’m sorry that I haven’t been around much the last week. Elder care issues abound. MY apologies to all.

    When Gwen wrote the Rhea Lynch MD series, that character started out based on two doctors I knew well at the time — With major differences, of course, but with them as templates. But she quickly (like in the first part of the first book) became so much like me that it was startling and difficult to write sometimes, and I had to remind myself that it was okay for her to live off Twinkies and run 5 miles a day and live in sloth and dust and mess. That she really wasn’t me. Writing her was sometimes uncomfortable.

    Jane Yellowrock and I would not get along at all. Not at all. I am so little like her (except for her lack of social skills and a tiny bit of her snark). Were we to meet, there would be a lot of cussing (on my part, as Jane doesn’t cuss) and eye rolling, and general disgust, likely on both parts.

    And I am so glad to have her be so very different. Writing her is freeing in ways that writing Rhea Lynch was not.

  • David, this is a great and useful post. Our characters have to be allowed to be themselves . . . or no one will believe they are real (smiles).

  • (waves to Barb!!!) Thanks for de-lurking!

    For our readers: Barb is up for a guest post on Wednesday, talking about writing and characters — a different slant on creating them.

  • SiSi, thanks for the comment. Isn’t it funny and wonderful the way our characters assert themselves, even when we’re not sure that we want them to. It’s one more way in which they are SO much like children . . . I also find it interesting exploring the ways in which my characters diverge from my personality; it sounds like you’re having a similar experience. Best of luck with it.

    Faith, thank you. That’s very interesting — the differences between writing Rhea and Jane. I have often said that I tired of the LonTobyn books as quickly as I did because my POV character was too boring. But maybe the real problem was he was too much like me. Which is to say, he was too boring. Hmmm . . . Maybe I’ve had it right all along . . .

    Barb, so true. Thanks for the kind comment.

  • sagablessed

    Good post, David.
    In my first WIP I felt closer to the antagonists than the protagonist.
    My current WIP I am having issues with one of the protagonists. I see nothing of me in her. I think she and I would kill each other. I find her boring, except for one issue I in real life have never dealt with. I find exploring her reactions to this to be interesting. Yet the antagonists are strangely real to me, even though they are daemons.
    I guess I am just weird.

  • JoQsh

    Hey, David. I’ve been reading the blog for a couple of months now, but this is my first time to comment. I feel like you pulled this post out of my head! No only do I have a WIP that deals with magic that same way, (should it be controlled because of its power, or is it up to the wielder to use it for good) but I’ve also been thinking a ton about the lines between ourselves and our characters – specifically, how readers view them.

    My current series has an anti-hero that’s seriously lacking in moral restraint. Killing people is a power trip for him. Never in a million years could I find killing to be fun. I’m sure my readers know that. In minor differences, though, things become blurred. For example, I don’t cuss. I have nothing against it, but many people I know do, so I don’t do it. My characters do, though, and I often wonder if my friends who think ill of those who cuss can tell the difference between me cussing and my characters cussing, or, in your case, between you being pro-gun control and Ethan being against. (or likely against, as you said it) So far, I haven’t had to deal with any of my friends or family confusing the issue. I hope you don’t have to, either!

  • Saga, thanks. I don’t think you’re weird, but you might be demonic . . . 🙂 Seriously, I hate to make this suggestion, because it might throw a huge wrench in your writing plans. But isn’t it possible that you’re having these problems because you have assumed that your daemons have to be the antagonists? What if they’re the protagonists and your other character is the “villain”? Just a thought . . .

    JoQsh, welcome to the site and thanks for de-lurking! I’m glad you found the post interesting. I have to admit that my biggest concern, like yours, is how people who know me will react to some of this stuff. I have lots of readers who I will probably never meet. But as you say, the family and friends who read my work and wonder about my thinking on issues — that does give me pause. Thanks very much for the comment. And again, welcome to MW!

  • kwlee

    Look, I’m not a coward. Really, I’m not. But, I’d be the first to admit that there far more braver people out there than me. I like to think that my heroes, or atleast the admirable ones, would fall within that ‘braver’ category. So I’d have to agree with the statement that our heroes tend to be better parts of ourselves.

    But, I do have a tendancy to feel fairly close to my antagonists as well. Or atleast, they usually fall within the thought that they believe they are the center of their own story and from that I understand why they do what they do. More often than not I end up feeling bad about the decisions I make them take, however given their circumstances and mindset, they are usually unable to do anything other.

  • Nathan Elberg

    I would imagine that when you have a book or a series with one central character such as Ethan (or Jane), it’s easy to fall into that character becoming the author’s1avatar. My main character is based on a historical 16th century Kurdish-Jewish wise-woman. Although we have next to nothing in common in terms of life experiences, I’d like to think that we closely resemble each other in terms of our ability to learn from experience, as well as our ability to transcend the obvious or easy lessons of experience.

  • While I agree that we’re not our characters, I often feel like character is the spot where the “write what you know” makes the MOST sense. What loss have I experienced? How can I understand my character’s loss through mine. Like someone said above, empathy. Even when I don’t like what my characters decide to do, if it’s genuine it’s fine.

    As for my newest MC, I certainly hope I’m not like her… I think were I given a “no consequences” pass I might be more like her. She’s pretty bad. She’s selfish. She’s ambitious (ambitious like Lady Macbeth, not like gee I want to get into a good college). She’s got a mean-girl streak. But she’s smart. She’s a bit broken. She wants to make others proud of her. But all the bad stuff she’s done drops on her in a big way in the first few chapters of the book. And so she’s got, maybe, a chance at redemption. At being better and fixing mistakes (though some can’t be fixed). I’m getting to know her better, and she’s not me. But with a few wrong turns and some sort of thing that upped my amorality, she could be. And, in the end, I like her. I hope other folks like her too. She’s a little sympathetic ’cause she’s young (this is YA, or more likely New Adult, since she’s almost 20), so she can make mistakes now that can be made up for, or at least open the space of growth. But I’ve had some cringe moments when my characters have done stuff I think is bad or I know I’d disagree with.

  • In my UF, I was worried about my MC being too much of a Mary Sue. We do have several similarities: she’s short like me, with a brown pixie cut, and she’s from Vancouver, too. But she is most definitely not me in a lot of ways. She’s half-Hispanic, for one thing. For another, she didn’t grow up with two loving parents. She’s a twin (which I’m not, though I do have a pair of sisters who are). She also has a few opinions I don’t quite share, and peppermint mochas are *definitely* not my favourite drink. 🙂 Most importantly, she reacts differently to things. I think if we met in person, we could get along, but we wouldn’t be close friends.

    This post gets me thinking, especially about stretching myself with future characters. I’ve realized my writing “voice”, but I don’t want them to sound exactly like *me*.

  • Razziecat

    David, I know exactly what you mean by the “quickening.” I call it “I’ve got a live one!” 🙂 And it’s always exciting and a little disconcerting. I used to think my characters were bits of myself, from deep, deep inside; which is scary considering what some of them are capable of.

    I don’t think I would get along with all of them. One of my space opera characters has a nasty streak that once made him arrange for someone he hated (with reason) to be assaulted (yes, like that) by an alien predator. Another character killed his superior, believing the man was unstable and dangerous. Neither action is one that I would even condone, let alone carry out myself. Many of my characters believe in capital punishment, which I rarely agree with. But they also have qualities that I’d like to emulate. They defend those they love, they don’t give up or give in easily, they will give their lives to protect and defend others. I think the negative qualities come from the imperfect parts of me, while the good qualities come from my ideals, the “better me” that I’d like to become.

  • In college ethics class I often volunteered for the less popular or more antagonistic side of an argument – not because I necessarily believed in that point of view, but because I found it valuable. I sometimes used to call it “looking at the bottom of the shoe.”

    A dozen or so years ago, I was speaking with my dad about writing. I said something along the lines of, “You know how, as you’re driving along the highway, you see the perfect perch for sniping at cars on the road, or, when you’re at the hardware store, you see a vat next to a woodchipper and a bag of lye and think, Hmmmm?” He looked at me and said, “No, dear. Most people don’t think like that.”

    What do those two seemingly related things have to do with this post, you ask? Both just prove the adage that a good writer has to have multiple personalities within, and that a few of them are bound to be sociopaths and/or psychopaths! 🙂 I am not. Shush, she’s not talking to you.
    I enjoy exploring views that aren’t my own. I revel when one of my characters slants his or her eyes at me and gives me that, “Oh, really?” look (and then goes on and does exactly what he or she would do rather than listening to me). In my first published story, the protagonist made a final choice I would NOT have made. EVER. She’s not me.

    I do worry, sometimes, that others may ascribe my characters’ beliefs as my own. I’ve known a few authors who have been burned on the alter of misconception for just that reason. But I’m old, and feisty, and if I refuse to impose my own political, religious, or ethical beliefs on other live people, why would I try to do it to the imaginary ones?

  • (and that post is the perfect illustration on why an editor is necessary. I read it over four times and still missed related where it should have been UNrelated [sigh])

  • Kwlee, I think that the more you can relate to both your protagonists AND antagonists, the more powerful and better developed those character arcs are going to be. As you say, a villain is still the hero of his or her own story — the villain doesn’t usually think “I am evil.” And so understanding those motivations is a really good thing.

    Nathan, I would agree that when I write with several POV characters instead of just one, I am less likely to identify quite so closely with any one of them. It’s more likely that I would scatter traits to which I can relate among many of them. And your WIP protagonist sounds very interesting.

    Emily, from the perspective of emotion, I totally agree with you. We write fear, or grief, or love, or joy, etc. by drawing on our own experiences with those feelings. And so yes, those are “write what you know” moments. I guess what I am saying is that I want my characters to have their own emotional responses. So that where I might feel fear, Ethan feels anger or resolve. Where I feel joy, maybe he feels a sense of loss triggered by memories of a time when he was whole and his life was good. If that makes any sense. And I think your character sounds very intriguing.

    Laura, I’m glad the post got you thinking. But I don’t want to sound like I’m saying “Your protagonist CAN’T be you.” There’s no right way, and all that. But I think that the more we allow our characters to be their own person, even if they inadvertently wind up like someone “real,” the more convincing they are going to be. That’s all. I’m really not trying to make rules.

    Razz, that’s interesting. So in a way, you’re saying that through your characters you are exorcising some demons and also exploring personal goals for self-improvement. That makes it sound formulaic, and I don’t mean it to. Because I think you’re on to something. I do see Ethan’s worst qualities in me, and I wish I shared his best qualities. Hmmmm. I’m going to be thinking about that for a long time. Thanks.

    Lyn: “Looking at the bottom of the shoe.” I LOVE that! I certainly agree that I have many personalities inside me, and that I explore different facets of my emotional self through different characters. And yeah, I do all that dark stuff: sniper perches? Definitely. Poisons and weapons? You betchya. Thanks for the comment.

  • David> I totally get what you mean. I guess what I meant was, regardless of whether or not I’d feel anger (let’s say) in my character’s circumstance, I HAVE felt anger, and so my character’s anger might be derived from my understanding of anger, even if her being angry in that moment is foreign to me. Though it’s also true that how a character displays that emotion might be different than how I’d display that. So while I get angry, I might not scream and throw things, though my character might. Though I imagine, for example, that it would be tough writing about something I’ve never felt–I guess I’d have to get there from analogy. I haven’t lost a person, but I’ve lost a pet. (Having lost both people and pets, I’m fully aware of the insufficiency of that analogy, but it might be a start.)

  • Hi all – I’m late to the convo again. 🙂 I pretty much entirely agree with your post, David – it reminds me of Dorothy Sayers’ defense of her most famous MC’s continued atheism despite the fact that Sayers herself was a devout Christian. She was deeply offended by anyone who suggested she “save” Peter and argued that characters have to have free will or the writer becomes a monster, a puppet master, and the character merely a puppet, not a living person.

    The flip side of this is that my current MC is very like the person I was about 20 years ago, much more so than I wanted her to be when I started writing. It’s rather frightening. Since I lived through that stage of my life, I have to keep stopping myself from correcting her mistakes before she can make them while simultaneously thinking “oh gosh. This is going to hurt [her] like crazy.” But as I let her make mistakes I’m starting to see the ways she’s different than me.

  • Absolutely fascinating post, David – thanks.
    The three protagonists of my novel are three totally different people, and I think that I would hate the guts of at least one of them if I met them in real life. I’m not entirely sure if I’d get along with my MC. If I knew him well enough and saw beyond his outer shell of arrogance, sarcasm and extreme cynicism, I think I would see a lot of the traits I lack – courage, initiative, calmness in even the most desperate emergency and the ability to improvise, MacGyver-like, no matter what the situation. In fact, I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration to say that my MC is the exact opposite of myself in very many ways.
    His sidekick, Prince Demetrius, is strangely enough almost exactly the person that I aspire to be. He started the story with a handful of my own character flaws – extreme shyness, desperate fear – but grew into a guy that I’d want to emulate (and marry too, if he’d let me 😛 ). Gentle, faithful, unassuming, unafraid. That’s the character that I’d get along with.

  • Emily, yes. I think in many ways we’re saying the same thing but coming at it from slightly different angles. I certainly agree that our own emotional histories provide invaluable understanding of how our characters feel.

    Sarah, the puppet thing is absolutely key to this. Remind me to tell you a story about an interaction I had with Robert Jordan about just this. And letting your characters make their own mistakes. Yes, more and more this is like raising kids . . .

    Unicorn, thank you. Having a sidekick to whom your readers (and you) can relate is a great way of allowing them to see the main character in greater relief and detail. It’s actually the approach that Jack Kerouac used in writing ON THE ROAD. Very cool.

  • A certain, very prolific, fantasy author once wrote a book that randomly launched into a polemic about supporting their political party. It had no relevance to the plot, nor could the political issues discussed be remotely related to anything that could happen in the story.

    It annoyed me. I put the book down and didn’t finish it, nor did I read anything else by that author. I can watch the news if I want hateful, partisan rhetoric. I read fantasy to escape that sort of thing, and imagine a better world.

    Good call, Mr. Coe.

  • sagablessed

    I said it on fb, so I’ll say it here:
    You are both evil for making me re-write several chapters, and a mad genius for the same -with a twist.

  • I’m not really bothered by the idea that my characters not only are not like me, but that they may be different enough from me that we’d not get along. I mean… my antagonists are characters, too. Many of my characters, both good and bad, act in ways that I could not condone.

    I approach my characters from a different direction. I do try to give them their own lives, histories, beliefs, and personalities. But in order for my character work to shine, I have to be able to be the character (rather than the other way around). I have to make their experiences into my experiences, I have to have lived their lives, and feel what they would feel, if they were real. Emotions and actions are key to this, and I have to mine my own life and experiences to get the source code for those emotions, actions, and experiences. I guess it’s more like Method Acting, but on the written page. (And yes, I feel that I have to do this both for protagonists and antagonists.)

  • quillet

    I know that quickening moment! I used to call it “when the character jumps up and says hello” but I like “the quickening” much, much better. Mind if I steal that? 😉 Anyway, I love it when a character develops a mind of her/his own — though it can be disconcerting sometimes. I once wrote a scene with a secondary character and then, when it was finished, sat back and shivered. My character scared me. Part of the scare was knowing that the scene came out of my head. Yikes. Normal people aren’t supposed think up stuff like that! But I also know that my character is very, very different from me, and he does things that (as Razzie says) I wouldn’t condone, let alone do. Sometimes, I’d like to put a disclaimer on my work, similar to the one they put on DVDs sometimes: The views expressed by the characters do not necessarily represent the views of the author.

    I was also disconcerted to realise, one day, that my MC would probably want to smack me upside the head! I’m a lazy dreamer, while he’s a tough-minded realist who does stuff I wouldn’t have the guts (or the energy) to try. Apart from a shared dry sense of humour, we are almost nothing alike. Once I got over the shock, though, I decided to be proud of that. Beta readers (so far, anyway) have told me my characters seem like real people, surprisingly different from me — and from each other. I think that’s great!

    BTW, your reason not to base characters on real people is exactly the same as mine. Thanks for articulating that! To use actor-speak, I need to “own” my characters, to get inside their heads, and I can’t do that if they’re walking around completely separate from me, outside of my head, in the real world.

  • Deep, I’m pretty sure I know just who you mean, and yeah, I don’t want to be like that writer . . . Thanks!

    Thanks, Donald. Glad my comment proved . . . um . . . helpful?

    Stephen, I agree: we absolutely have to do this for both antagonists and protagonists. But there is a level at which we expect an author to relate in some way to his/her hero, and I was kind of riffing on that assumption.

    Quillet, steal away! And yes, “owning” the character is exactly the term I was after. So I might have to steal that! Thanks very much for the comment.