Friday, April 4, 2008

What a Character!

by Toni Leland

The second most-asked question a writer hears is, "Are your characters real people?" OR, "Am I in your book?"

Any author in their right mind would answer a resounding "NO!" and dodge any further fishing expeditions but, I for one, have to admit that my characters are based on real people, albeit composites that I sculpt to fit the story. And I'm reasonably sure that even the person or persons I use in the formula would not know themselves. Human nature being what it is, though, close acquaintances are always positive they'll see a clue to the identity of my story people. Therein lies the perfect setting for either a lawsuit or a family feud!

Quite a few years ago, a writer published a book that was set in one of the big-breed industries. The writing was not stellar, but the industry itself was fascinating and, of course, anyone connected with it had to buy that book to see if they were in the story. At the height of the book's short-lived popularity, at horse shows it was such fun to lurk around groups of trainers and owners to eavesdrop on their conversations about who, exactly, the author was describing. And, in truth, this author hadn't camouflaged the "real models" very well, so everyone had it figured out within a few months of the book's release.

Writing a fictional tale requires, first, an excellent plot that will keep the reader turning the pages. Then, interesting and engaging characters must make the plot come alive. When Avid Reader begins a book, he or she wants to identify with the hero or heroine ("protagonist" in writer speak). As authors, we must build a character with a believable background, a believable personality, and believable goals. And we have to effectively present this story person to Avid Reader in the first few pages, or we've lost our audience.

Here's another version of the characters question: "Is your main character really you?" This one's tough because every writer puts a little or a lot of themselves into the story line and the characters. For instance, I'm terrified of large dogs, allergic to bee stings, and always on a diet. These tendencies or quirks do often show up in some of my characters. They just appear—I don't plan to use them. But the fact I've loved horses all my life is the biggest "me" trait that I instill in my characters, and I do that on purpose!

What kinds of story people do YOU enjoy most?

'Til next time....

Read an excerpt from DEADLY HERITAGE now!

1 comment:

Jami Davenport said...


I've been getting those questions lately, too: Am I in your book?

Nope, any relationship to people alive or dead is purely coincidental.

At least, that what I say.