I made a startling realization today. My main character and I are not interested in the same things. In fact, her favorite subject is the one subject in school that was always beyond me – science. And you know what is even worse? I realized that I’ve written another character in another work-in-progress that has these same interests.
As a writer, it seems like it would be easy to model my characters after me, to give them my hobbies and my interests. But did you ever have to draw a self-portrait in an art class? If so, you probably know how difficult a thing it is to try to recreate yourself. I could draw other people’s’ portraits, showing their flaws and beauties and making the entire thing come together in a wonderful recreation of that person, but when I sat down to do myself, all of my self-perceived flaws flew to the surface and there was nothing I could do to add in the beauty. And even worse, I couldn’t even get the flaws right because I wanted to downplay them. When things get too personal, bias creeps in. And bias rarely allows for a full story to be portrayed, just like it keeps a portrait from being complete.
This is not to say that my characters do not have bits of me inside of them. Often I substitute in a fear or an insecurity or a quirk or a personality trait. I may make my character shy or overly chatty when she is uncomfortable. Or I might go the opposite and, instead of adding in my insecurities, I may make that character confident about the things I lack confidence in. Adding in emotions I know help make the character more real.
I also add bits of other people I know, but I never make a character a spitting image of someone I know. Instead I may take one of my insecurities and mix it with my friends facial features and my brother’s talent and my other friend’s strange quirk. This allows me to create a dynamic, unique character. This is what helps me to make my characters real.
Unfortunately, though, to make a character real, you have to be able to write in real details. Meaning, if you character is interested in science and genetics, I, as the writer, have to research science and genetics so that I can add in little tidbits throughout the narrative, things that will tie back to the main character’s interests and personality and help bring the story alive.
So who knows, maybe by the end of the summer I will have a better grasp on science or at least be able to convince people through my writing that I have a grasp on it.
How do you come up with inspiration for your characters? Do you research their interests or do you try to give them your own interests?