Character Inspirations

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From the God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same book blog tour

Authors are often asked about the origins of their fictional stories or characters. I personally believe that our imaginative writings are always a little autobiographical in nature. Not in the literal telling of our life’s story, but from our individual perspective of life and the people who have crossed our paths. Ideas for stories and characters can come from our daydreams, night dreams or nightmares. They can come from our present life, old memories or our new visions of “the what ifs” and the “why nots?” Some say there aren’t really any original stories, only original storytellers. However, to be original in any way means we must pull from within to give the outside world something new and personalized.

In my novel God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same, the beginnings of Vera, the old homeless woman, were similar to my grandmother’s. They were both of mixed-race, born around the same time and both of their fathers drowned before they were born. However, the rest of Vera’s story was inspired by my perspective of the strength, determination and sacrifices that develop through motherhood. Was she a successful character? The answer to that questions lies with the individual reader. However, for those who were moved by or related to Vera’s fictional tale (enough to write me), I have to believe she was a successful character for them.  So, the answer to the frequently asked question about character inspirations isn’t just about where the inspirations originate, but it’s also about how to use inspirations to define the characters. Here are a few tips to help shape or create new fictional characters:

Write from your feelings – Emotions that have become fused with the character’s personality, such as anger or sadness, need to be authentic. The most successful way to do this is to write from personal, true feelings. That may mean dredging up old memories, but the end result will be felt through the pages. If it’s difficult to relate to what your character is feeling, it’s okay to put your story on the shelf for a while. Just keep coming back to it until it feels right.

Focus on one character trait – Sometimes important characters originate from people you know in real life. Concentrate on the one detail in their personality or behavior that intrigues you. Use only that one behavior and build the rest of your character’s personality around it. That allows your imagination to continuously create new characters and not recycle personalities into different stories because they originate from the same general source.

Develop a back story -Depending on the type of story, one dimensional characters can get old fast. An antagonist meant to be disliked is sometimes devoid of any redeeming qualities. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons why the character is such an awful person. The reasons don’t have to be relatable or of any consequence to the outcome of the story, but exploring them from a writer’s perspective can help sharpen the overall character development and create interest for the reader.

Pull from your dreams – Keeping a notepad by your bed is cliché, but it’s still not a bad idea. Waking from a dream with a fresh perspective for a story or character can be priceless if you’re able to capture it. Try to note why the character seemed interesting and not just a visual description or list of details. This helps later when the visual image and details begin to fade.