Characters Like Me? Nope.


Some of you may have noticed that I didn’t post last week. It was a tough week. I spent most of it sleepless, working third shift, sitting by Mom’s hospital bedside (again sleepless) and crying my eyeballs out – for two very different reasons. Mom’s is fine, BTW. We finally discovered yesterday that it was skeletal, not heart. Her chiropractor fixed her. Sigh… The crying part was because my beloved dog Delta died. We’d had her (and she’d had our hearts) for nearly 15 years. The following portion of this post notwithstanding, Delta had been a big part of my (Gwen Hunter’s) writing for her whole life. She was Big Dog in the Rhea Lynch novels and is Butchie in Rapid Descent coming in 09. So…on to my topic and you’ll see how the subject of Delta blends in to what I wanted to talk about today.


Fans often ask, how much are your characters like you? The answer, except for animals, always being … um … not so much. For me, the best part of writing is discovering who the characters are, what the plot and conflict reveal about the main character, how said character acts when the conflict spirals down and things get dangerous and dirty. I can plan the plot line out pretty well in advance, especially when writing mystery (as Gwen Hunter), but the characters are always a mystery when I first start writing, even to me.


I have author friends who work out everything about a character, create whole entire histories and backstories about them, and know everything, sometimes even a family line back numerous generations (I think David fits into this category). One mystery writer friend, Tamar Myers, even draws pictures of her characters and keeps the notebook open when writing. When I first sit down to write, I know very little beyond what I need to actually *start* the book.


When I first came up with Thorn St. Claire, I knew physical descriptions because she is a sword fighter and her small stature correlates into the type of weapons she uses. A long-bladed knife in the hands of her fighting mentor becomes a short-sword for Thorn. So, I knew height, weight (sorta), hair color, skin color both as a mage and when glamoured to look human, musculature, speed, and stamina. Eye color was unimportant. I knew she was an orphan, but not how her parents died. I knew she was a stone mage in hiding, and why she was in hiding, and what would happen to her if she was discovered (nothing good). After that, well, nothing much mattered. Her personality was a total unknown.


Age was important – only because I needed her to have been in hiding a certain number of years but have been with others of her kind long enough to get a tiny bit of magical training. Education in the human school system was unimportant. Her foster parents were unimportant. A lot of this extra stuff was revealed to me as BloodRing, the first book in the Rogue Mage series, was written, but starting out, was unknown. I wanted the character to tell me about herself. I wanted to get to know her, just like the reader would, at the same time and speed as the reader did. I wanted her faults to be things she kept hidden, like most of us keep them under wraps, often from ourselves. I wanted her strengths to be the little things, like, the fact that she made friends of the life-long variety and was loyal, to be fairly obvious. But I wanted the bigger strengths to be revealed as the story unfolded. The same way I’d get to know a new friend. And I wanted Thorn to never have pets. Why? Because all my characters have animals in their lives and I wanted Thorn to have none. In fact, none of my fantasy characters (so far) have pets or animals. All of my mystery characters do.


For me, character development (or character revelation) is the most personal part of the creative process. Are they like me? Not so much. Like someone I know? Not so much either. In fact, I have based a character on a person exactly twice, both times in the next Gwen Hunter book, Rapid Descent, to be released in February 09. Jedi Mike Kren, the Old Man of the River, is based on Jedi Mike Kolenburger, a river rafting guide. Elton, a paddler and the head of the rescue team, and parts of the hero, Orson Lennox, are based on David Crawford, owner of Rapid Expeditions on the Pigeon River. Why? Because both men are bigger than life. The characters just glommed onto them, and became more and more like them, especially Jedi.


But few character are much like me. The new character, Jane Yellowrock, of the novel Skinwalker (July 09) is less like me than most, with the exception of how she handled being picked on so called “friends” in her teens. That was similar. But Jane is a Cherokee Skinwalker. By definition she is way different. Way way way different. What she has revealed to me has been so much fun!


As for Delta, we miss her. And she will continue to be a part of my books.


How do you guys work when creating a character?



13 comments to Characters Like Me? Nope.

  • Most of my characters have a disability. As they say, write what you know, and I know disabilities too well. I’m like you. Faith, I let my characters grow organically though.

  • Well, the world most of my stories are set in deals with five powerful royal families. One family in particular gets the most attention. I have a family tree that spans about 2000 years for them, with everyone’s name and date of birth and, where applicable, date of death.

    I don’t do in depth character studies. Most of the ancestors are attached to major events in history and they are mostly historical figures.

    One thing I am trying to work on with them is to establish their public historical persona and then create a little note about what they were actually like.

    When it comes to the actual writing, however, most of my characters outside this family just show up and I learn who they are and what they’re about as I go.

  • Wade, do you write fantasy, and if so, how does a disability work in a fantasy/magical world? Do you give your characters a physical disability as well as a magical one? And a plot to challenge both?

    And CEDunkley, do you make the non-5-family characters have places in the history, with family lines for them too? And if so, do the lines interesct throughout the timeline? I’d think that would be too hard to keep up with, myself, but I’ve read timelines that span eons with the same families interescting again and again.

  • For me, my main character are disfferent aspects of my own personality. So when I write and flesh out a character, I am really kinda exploring my own inner self. I have the good guy in me, the I have the naughty girl, the rogue fighter, and the noble king all inside me in one respect or another. For me, it is just a matter of tuning into the right station.

    As for family histories, I think it really would depend on the importance of the history. If the person is of the nobility, then obviously Family is a big part of that, so I would really get to know it. However a street urchin’s family isn’t so important unless I want it to become a plot point later. In general an urchin’s is not important so I let it slide for them.

  • Faith,

    I don’t have family trees for the non-5-family characters, but the ones that show up in the early part of my timeline (10,000 years long, by the way) do have descendants in the later stories I’ve developed.

    Some of these characters become connected to some of the royal families throughout the world’s history. In fact the protagonist of my first book at the start of the whole timeline will have descendents who are protagonists or at least supporting cast POV characters in the science fantasy stories that take place near the end of the timeline.

    I’ve got a list of about 60 major events and have written first drafts of about 6 of them. None of it is anywhere near approachable as publishable. Not that I wrote them with that intention at the time.

    About a year or so ago I decided to actually take the world I created and work on crafting them into novels for publication. Looking back at all of my drafts and notes and family trees and maps and lists upon lists of names, I’m glad I was so engrossed in the creation aspect of things back then.

  • Faith,

    My current WIPis a science fiction duology where my man character is paralyzed, and he is in a weelchair. I tend to write science fantasy because it allows me to give my characters disabilities which are realworld based.

    I hope that answers your questions.

  • Thanks, guys. Good insight into why we write who we write. One of my own fav characters is a 40 something, mixed-race nurse who lives on a horse farm, battles cellulite, owns lots of dogs, and is afraid of riding horses. Parts of me are in there. Not a lot, but part.

    I have a friend who writes a blind supporting character, a bad-girl character who works as an erotic phone sex operator by night, and rips off stores by day. Her audience — many of whom are blind — love the idea of a blind character doing those things, just like a sighted person might. When I asked her why the blind character was so…um…earthy, she said she knew a woman much the character.

  • I’ve found that for me (and I’ve written and talked about this before) the closer a character is to myself or someone I know, the more difficult he or she is to write. Or put another way, the more I have to imagine for a character, the more a character is a product of my creative impulse, the more he/she grows organically out of the narrative and the worldbuilding and the other people I’ve drawn for the book, the better he or she reads.

    That said, I think there’s something of me in ALL my characters. I’m not sure that can be avoided.

    Neat post, Faith. Thanks for finding a way to turn what has been a painful time for you into something from which the rest of us can learn.

  • I model my characters on people that I know whose attitude or behavior I react strongly to–favorably or unfavorably. I guess that includes myself. That’s the starting point, not the ending point. No “model” of mine could point to a character and say “That’s me!” because I work in bits and pieces from all over to complete the character.

    Or maybe they would see themselves, even where they’re not. I’ve heard that sometimes happens.

  • St Claire? All this time I’ve thought it was St Croix. Oops.

    Have a lovely day! 🙂

  • Since my book is about pirates, and since I am personally friendly with a big gaggle of pirates from the Carolina Renaissance Faire, of course some of them decided that they knew “who” all my characters were. Granted one of my characters was modeled physically after someone I knew, but that was as far as it went.

    I don’t think they’ll ever believe me, though. 😀

  • Oops. Tez you caught out my imperfect memory!
    It *is* Thorn St. Croix. I have another family in a mystery book with the St. Claire name.
    I feel like a grandmother with 50 grandkids. All that energy and all those names. Maybe I should do like one of them and just say *hey you*, or *Kid in tne red cap*.

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