“Is Sydney Valentine you?” I’ve been asked that question several times. I imagine that if the main character is of the same gender as the writer, that might be the assumption with some readers.
I think most writers would say that a few (or all) of their characters share some of their traits. It could be something minor. Perhaps the character and writer share a dislike of Brussels sprouts. I don’t like them. I ate them as a child because—well, because I wanted dessert.
Vivid characters are formed from our own life experiences, whether it was experienced personally or observed and happening to someone else. Have you ever read a book and found yourself nodding or laughing out loud at something the character said or did? Did you react that way because you could relate to it?
You don’t have to be the one with a broken leg to see how it affects the injured person when they try to get around. You can feel. You can empathize. Well, unless you’re a sociopath—then all bets are off.
Imagine a child falling off of her bike when the training wheels come off. I’m using ‘she’ and ‘her’ to be consistent. I’m not implying that girls are clumsier than boys. We all know that’s not true. 🙂
The girl might scrape her knee (if she’s not wearing knee pads). At some point in your life you’ve probably experienced falling off of a bike or you saw someone else fall. Could you imagine how a child would feel when she looked down and saw the blood? Fear. Pain. If others were around she’d probably try not to cry. The chin would quiver. She might limp away pushing the bike or she’d get back on and try again. Good for her!
Paying attention to one’s surroundings, including the people, and how they interact and react in various situations, are how characters are formed. It’s how my characters are formed. Of course, there are some writers who ARE writing themselves into their stories. I’m just not one of them.
Here’s a conversation from The Protector between Sydney, Bernie, and Charles Tenley. Tenley knew a homicide victim and the detectives are interviewing him. He has allowed them to enter his apartment.
“Have a sit down.” Tenley plopped his scrawny butt down in the corner of the sofa and set his Corona on the end table. An overflowing ashtray sat next to it. I observed no drug paraphernalia out in the open. “I’d offer y’all a brew, but y’all be working.” He gulped his beer, then burped.
I leaned in. “Mr. Tenley–”
“That’s Chuck to you, pretty lady.”
“Mr. Tenley, I’m sure you’ve heard about your girlfriend’s murder by now?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Ain’t got no girlfriend.”
“Your former girlfriend, then,” Bernie said.
“I’m married to my former girlfriend. She ain’t dead.” He grinned. “Well, sometime she just lay there when she had a long day at work.” He winked. “Know what I mean?”
“Mr. Tenley, we’re referring to Beatrice Menifee,” I said.
“Hey.” He pointed a grubby finger my way. “I told you to call me Chuck.” He leered.
“I’m going to call you arrested for possession if you don’t start cooperating,” I said, although I had no probable cause to arrest him.
“Okay. Okay. A man can’t have no fun no more.” He picked up his beer, turned it upside down and a few drops dribbled out onto his Levi’s, which were already in need of multiple heavy-duty washings.
I don’t know anyone like Charles Tenley, but I sure enjoyed writing the character! He’s a conglomeration of people I’ve observed throughout my life. But, isn’t that what all of our characters are? They’re just our observations that have been fictionalized to suit our needs.
Sydney Valentine is not me. She is the type of character I wanted to read about and I wrote the book that I, as a reader, wanted to read. Sydney Valentine was born from that desire. My hope is that others would want to read about her, too.
How much of your main character is you? Do the characters you create share personality or physical traits with you?