Which characters – Who gave you inspiration?

Choosing the right characters for your novel is vital but how do we do it? I have already written about the joys and pitfalls of choosing a name on another blog but where do we begin choosing characters?

I must admit that my characters seem to creep up on me like new aquaintances many of whom, over subsequent months, become well loved friends.

Real or Imaginary

If real people inspire us, and I’m sure most of our heroes and heroines are based on a rainbow of many people we know all rolled into one, then like with familiar settings it makes it easier to:

  • Describe their personalities and looks
  • Imagine realistic conversations
  • Make the thread of our story believable
  • Fix the period and events, giving a web on which to base our tale if we include some real characters in historical fiction

Harriet in Riduna was inspired by my Great Grandmother. I had only met her twice; once when I was about three and I remember seeing an old lady in a rocking chair as I stepped down into a dark old New Forest farmhouse kitchen. On the second occasion she was in a nursing home. I have been told that she was quite a formidable woman and it was not these encounters which inspired me most, but my inquisitive mind as to what she had been like as a girl and how her nature had been moulded by her experience of being banished from the island of her birth.

If we choose real characters there can be disadvantages too:

  • Even if your novel or story is set in the past you are still in danger of upsetting someone, even if you claim that you are writing fiction -‘that didn’t happen.’ ‘He didn’t do that.’
  • In trying to weave real and imaginary characters within a story then ‘pure historians’ may be offended, claiming that we are trying to rewrite history
  • Obviously if your novel is set today or in recent years then even more care needs to be taken in including real people for obvious reasons. The law will be quick to step in if anything you have written is defamatory.

If you choose purely imaginary characters then:

  • You can let your imagination truly take over
  • You can bend their looks, trait and behavioural tendancies to suite the occasion, so long as you describe them well

The most important points to remember about the characters you choose is:

  • To be consistent
  • To keep a careful record of the description of each
  • To have a clear idea of relationships and how they connect with each other
  • To have a clear record of the order of events where each character appears
  • If your novel is many facetted it helps if there is a link through the threads, or that the connection with your main character is clear throughout the novel

The sequel to Riduna, which I hope to have in print shortly, has a mixture of real and imaginary characters, setting my novel in a particular place and time, though the real characters only appear fleetingly to add flavour and realism to historic events.

How do you choose your characters?

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Planning a novel, Research, Writing, Writing a novel

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