Where do these people come from? Are they real? Writers get a lot of questions about the characters they create. Of course, the answer, if you are in your right mind, is that you don’t model your characters after one person. I’m not sure what other writers do but mine are a fusion of many people.
I based the main character of The Drought of Sam Dakota on a guy I ran into in the QuikTrip, twice. He intrigued me like a novel with a strong hook. Thank God they didn’t have stalking laws the first time because I followed him around the QT, drooling. He had a little boy with him and that colored the story that later became The Drought of Sam Dakota, but the part that came from that man were my character’s looks and apparent heritage. I don’t know the gentleman I saw that day (or the second time I was lucky enough to run into him) so none of the other aspects of my character came from him. Sam’s exact heritage and some of his traits come from a distant relative of mine. His cases – he’s a child advocate – come from a lifetime in education. I changed names and tweaked the incidents, but all of those things happened in the suburban, middle class area in which I taught. Some of Sam’s idiosyncrasies are traits of friends of mine. Sometimes because I admire them, sometimes because they drive me insane. Sam is not based on one individual. Now when we read him at group, everyone drools and wishes he was one person but that’s really what characters are all about. There will never be an Atticus Finch, but it’s the possibility that there might be that drives us on.
Sam’s sidekick is a guy I met at a birthday picnic. He also fascinated me. He’s Native Samoan, and he barters rather than collects a paycheck. People pay him in goods for work he does. Those two things became the basis for Rami Amato, the private detective who helps Sam search for his own son.
I based Ginny, the main character in my YA novel, on several former students. Her looks and physicality come from one student, her name from another, and her personality from a third. These three young ladies give my genetically engineered character a depth it would have been difficult to make up.
Her cohorts, Toad and Mayo, are also from former students. In Toad’s case, three former students and in Mayo’s case, two. It doesn’t take a lot to pull from real life. In Mayo’s case, I had a student who could not eat enough food. Every time he entered my class he had a bag of chips, a banana, those nasty fruit treats or anything edible in his hand. I had him lunch hour, and he didn’t so much eat as graze all hour. The character of Mayo became a foodie. I crossed this with a hacker I had. This kid could do anything with computers. Which was good because the technology in my room was always broken, and he fixed things faster and better than the district. I based Toad on a kid who was into extreme sports before they coined that phrase. I added in a student I had later who plays lacrosse. The two boys became Toad this hot young man with a daredevil attitude. I also had a young man with a disability one year. He smiled every day. I never saw him grumpy or sad. He never had a “why me” attitude. Toad needed this kid’s outlook.
I love pulling traits from real people to imbue life into my characters.
What inspires your characters?