Friday, April 23, 2010

Which Character Are You?

Mel Brooks said, "Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities, and have them relate to other characters living with him."

People frequently ask an author, "Which character in your book are you?" The answer is, of course, all of them. Sure we want readers to identify with the hero/heroine, but each of the characters comes from within the author. The late Elmer Kelton said that on only one occasion did he use a real person in one of his books, and that he never put himself through that agony again. Everyone in his town recognized the character for who he was--except, fortunately, the man himself.

My characters are a fictional, but my heroes always have those qualities I admire most in my Hero Husband. They're also always tall, as he is. But he's never been a policeman or rancher or business mogul or con man. He's not able to leap tall buildings at a single bound--except, of course, in my heart.

Would that I could be one of my heroines! Nope. Not even close. After being a skinny anemic child, for most of my adult life I've battled my weight. So, my heroines are always in the enviable (by me) position of having terrific metabolisms that allow them to eat whatever they want and never gain weight. They have lustrous hair instead of fine, thin stuff that has a mind of its own. This is fiction, remember? Hey, it's my book, so I can make them better than real life!

Novelists write, we create. That's our job. How, you ask? We let our imaginations bloom and pull characters from a well deep inside our subconscious. If we're lucky, we don't have to dig for the characters--they just pop into our heads and speak.

Yes, our research has to be credible. A fictional rancher has to engage in actual deeds that a real rancher would. A police station has to appear realistic even if the detective is imaginary. If a character is ill, the disease's treatment and diagnosis has to make sense for the era in the book. I've tossed books which got those things wrong. At our house, we call books like that "wall bangers." We don't literally hurl them against the wall--think of the paint and furniture--but we don't finish them either. And we don't buy that author's books again.

So, who is all the characters in a novel yet none of them?  The author. No, it's really not a riddle. It's a writer's life.

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