ON creating characters: In the beginning, writers create their characters from a pastiche of traits.. .Then, like kids, characters morph into beings of their own and work to fulfill a destiny that is uniquely theirs.
By Kait Carson
Patty Duke died this week. The death hit me hard. I wanted to be Patty Duke—or was it Patty Lane, I’m not sure—when I was a child. Both had it all from my vantage point. Both Pattys lived in New York, wore great clothes, had great hair, understanding parents, and Patty Lane had a really cool cousin with a fantastic accent. What more could a girl want. News flash! Patty Duke was a character. Patty and Cathy Lane were too but Patty Duke was a fiction. And that’s how it is with characters, especially main characters. Protagonists.
Protagonists done well create the same initial question in the reader’s mind. Is this a character, or is it the author? Truth is it’s a bit of both. E. Michael Helms, a blog mate, is a former Marine. Hank Phillippi Ryan is an investigative journalist (and on TV to boot). Patricia Cornwell worked in a Medical Examiner’s office. I scuba dive and am a paralegal. So Mac, Jane, Kay, and Hayden are lightly fictionalized depictions of…the authors. Although I can’t be 100% certain about anyone but me, it’s probably safe to say, “No way.” I know it’s safe to deny any relationship between Hayden and me. Case in point, Hayden is much younger, a lot savvier, and way more self-assured. But, I gotta thank you for the compliment.
Realism is the key to creating memorable characters. If the reader has some confusion between what’s real and what’s created, so much the better. It means we writers are doing our job well. Multi-dimensional characters become real to the reader, and to the author. When I’m stuck, I’ll ask Hayden what she would do next. What, in the context of this scene, would be the worst thing that could happen to her? What would be the best? The question is never what I would do. After two books, Hayden would point and laugh. She thinks I’m boring. And from a character standpoint, I am. I make her keep her legal stuff straight.
Every character has its own personality. Its own wants, needs, fears, hopes, secrets, embarrassments, quirks, temper, and emotions. In the beginning, writers create their characters from a pastiche of traits, many selected because they suit the author’s vision of the character. The page would stay blank otherwise. Those characterizations last for about two chapters. Just long enough to figure out what the character looks like. Then, like kids, characters morph into beings of their own and work to fulfill a destiny that is uniquely theirs. Like Patty Duke who started life as Anna Marie Duke and from all accounts, never confused one with the other.
Miss you Patty, Godspeed.
Anna, I wish I knew you.