09/22/18 – Dianne Drake

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Characters Make History

Great events make history, while great characters make events…at least that’s how I feel about the people whose stories make up history. Unless it’s a natural disaster, every event and story is driven by the characters who find themselves embroiled in a particular situation. Even natural disasters are told through the senses of the people who experienced the disaster. An earthquake is only the ground shaking until you connect it with the lives of the people that earthquake has affected.

So it’s not surprising that I feel the same way about my novels.When I write, I always start with the people. And how do I find these “people” to star in my novels? Inspiration comes from real life. In my first novel, Magical Man List, the inspiration hit close to home. The characters were my husband and I; the story was how we both used lists to find true love…true story. Then I fictionalize the characters and the story line, adding characters that were an amalgamation of friends and family to fill out the cast. Sometimes, however, life imitates art. My two main female characters are huge baseball fans and in love with Mike Piazza. Then lo and behold...I get to meet Mike Piazza and give him a copy of my novel in which he is mentioned. That's Mike and I in the photo. How cool is that!

In The Write Man for Her, I was inspired by a pilot who ran a flight school even after he lost the feeling in his legs in an airplane crash. Having your hero in a wheelchair posed some challenges and needed some delicate research into what can and cannot be done once you are paralyzed from the waist down. But the biggest hurdle was getting publishers to believe that my hero could pull it off, and he did!Because I never know where inspiration will come from, I keep notebooks with what I call character sketches. When I meet an interesting person, I joint down a few characteristics then use that as a jumping off point for a character.

Have you ever met someone that made you think; “Now there is someone who should be in a book?”If you were writing a book (or have written one) who would be or is your most unusual character, male or female?


Debra Glass said...

I love basing my heroes on real people from history. Thomas Benton Smith, a Civil War general, inspired the hero in Gatekeeper and the gentleman pirate, Stede Bonnet, was my model for the hero of Watchkeeper. I also draw on real life stories for my villains. Blackbeard is a favorite. In my current WIP, I'm using a Civil War soldier named Fielding Hurst who commanded a group of men known as Hurst's Worst. (need I say more about his villainous traits?) I majored in history because the facts always inspired my writing and I loved research. Truth is often stranger than fiction!

Judith Ashley said...

Christie, Interesting post. I'm learning so much about how writers come up with characters and story-lines. Thanks for adding to my repertoire.

Christie Walker Bos said...

Hey Debra: Thanks for stopping by. Love how you use actual historical figures for inspiration. It's like I said, people make history. Didn't know you majored in history. Always hated that subject in school because all they were interested in were the dry and boring facts. If they had spent more time on the people, I would have been hooked!

Sarah Raplee said...

Enjoyed this post, Christie!

Yes, I've found character inspiration in real life. I keep a file of news clippings and other research for future stories.

My most unusual character is a villain, Marko Vesovic, a Bosnian immigrant-turned-Mob boss inspired by a multitude of real, everyday people who struggle with issues of duty, honor, and survivor's guilt in the aftermath of a brutal ethnic war.

Christie Walker Bos said...

Marko Vesovic sounds like a great character, even if he is a villian. Which of your books is he in?

Paty Jager said...

Good post. I agree there have been people in my life sometimes fleeting who have captured my attention and a bit of them has wound up in my characters.

Tam Linsey said...

I just met someone yesterday who broke his neck three years ago and is walking today. It got me thinking about a new character for a book.

Vonnie Alto said...

I, too, keep a picture clipping file for characters. What gets my attention has more to do with a particular look or facial expression as compared to a specific celebrity. Often, a period look or facial expression can instantly give me a character.

For other inspiration, one of my favorite characters of all time is the Scarlet Pimpernel. Eventually, I will incorporate some aspect of this romanticized hero into a character of my own.

By the way, I, too, majored and mastered in History because History is fun. It's about ideas more than facts. That's what makes history so memorable and historical figures alive.