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Friday, February 02, 2007

Characters—cannibalize traits

First off, let me say that I personally don’t advocate basing characters off of people I know. Aside from the fear of being sued, it can be awkward if the person doesn’t like how you portray them, or if other people don’t like how you’ve portrayed them, or if other friends get their feelings hurt that you immortalized so-and-so in print but not them.

However, each person has traits you can borrow, and you can create your characters out of a composite of these traits.

My father-in-law’s tendency to always tell bad jokes made it into my heroine’s Uncle Howard. My dad’s favorite pastime, bowling, made it into my heroine’s father.

I do my best not to base the majority of a character’s personality off of a single person. I’ll usually try to come up with something general such as a mythological archetype (see 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt) and then create a three-dimensional personality by adding a unique background and different traits.

Even when using archetypes, no two characters are the same if they have differing backgrounds. My heroine Lex is the same archetype as Sarah Connor from The Terminator and Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, but they’re three very different women because of their backgrounds and the story plots.

After figuring out Lex’s archetype, I gave her the volleyball interest of one of my friends, the sports savvy of my husband, and the engineering background of another of my friends. All these things shaped her into a particular personality when the story opens.

So cannibalize your friends and families’ character traits! Just, uh . . . don’t name your villainess after your great-aunt Mary or anything like that . . .

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