Friday, January 21, 2011

Novel fodder

I recently started a new novel. Well, not so recently. I just haven't made as much progress as I'd like. I'd been flailing around with it and for many weeks I couldn't figure out why. I loved the premise. It had a strong plot. I could even weave in some interesting themes without being intrusive to the story. So what was the problem?

I haven't been paying attention, that's what. Blame it on this crap winter weather (and today in NYC it is, once again, crap) or a busy life, but there it is: I haven't been people-watching. And that, my friends, is a key part in developing my characters.

No one is outside! And if they are, they are bundled and angry and STEALING MY CAB, dammit. If I needed a pissed off New Yorker character, I'd be all set. Forget going out on the street, I could just look in the mirror.

What I need are people who spark ideas, like these characters:

1. I once had a dentist who was drippy-sugar-sweet. He spoke in sing-song and had this weird whoop of a laugh. All was fine until his assistant came in the room and he yelled her with such anger (hatred, even!) it was as if he could grab her by the hair and slit her throat any second. Then he'd turn to me and do the sing-song again. Yikes. What was going on in his head? I don't know for sure, but he snapped in the middle of a crowded shopping mall. At least in one of my short stories.

2. A character in a book I recently finished up came to me while I was listening to Amy Winehouse. What might it be like to be her BFF? Challenging, I'd bet. So I started with that idea and worked from there. I ended up with one of my favorite (albeit difficult) characters.

3. You know how preacher's kids are supposed to be the wildest? In my experience, not only is that true, but their charismatic dads are great for inspiration.

Now, I never lift someone completely from life. Every character is unique, has a little of myself sprinkled in them, and is a composite from many sources, even snippets of conversation on the subway.

But they usually start from something external. So it's time for me to pay attention again.

How about you? Do your characters originate from observations? Or do you make them up from scratch?


Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Great post and interesting question. For me, my characters are a little of both. Some are based on people I know, and some are entirely fictional. Some are a mixture of fact and fiction, and some get named after people I'm not exactly happy with. Ah, sweet revenge!

moonrat said...

I have zero original content in my brain. ZERO. Everything is stolen wholesale from people around me.

I guess I'm the kind of person they warn you about when they say not to make friends with writers.

WendyCinNYC said...

Coincidentally, my new novel will feature a spunky lady from Philly and a rat that only comes out when the moon is high.

Or at least, it should.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

This disgusting cold, snowy weather has kept me inside also. I'm going to a coffee chat with some other writers tomorrow night(if we're not snowed in)and hope that will get me going on my WIP.

yui said...

I always enjoy visitig here.

thejanefiles said...

well.. when i start to write, i predict every character will have dna from real life people and events. life is too wild to not (potentially) write/share about - but the malicious power-hungry ogre will absolutely NOT i repeat NOT be based on the head of junior school ^__^

Tim Greaton said...

I'm happy to have found your blog and am following you now :-)