My characters are all fictional, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use “real” ones for inspiration.
Have you ever read a novel that contains a character so compelling you picture him or her coming to life and stepping right out of the pages?
I have One of the most memorable is from Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity – and the main character had the name of Bourne. Actually, I don’t believe Bourne was his real name, but that theCIA, or whatever alphabet organization, gave him the name. At any rate, the character grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. To this day he occupies a special place in my memory.
However, what I mean to talk about today is using a specific incident, or type of incident, in a book, one triggered by a real life event by a real person. That incident can trigger either something major or minor connected to the protagonist, the hero, or the antagonist or the bad guy. But, the type I’m referring to here would definitely be because of something a real person did or said. And there’s no reason why the situation could not result in a bit of humor to lighten a serious book, or even provide an important clue.
Earlier today (Friday), I heard an unbelievable story from a friend. By no means was it funny, but it could easily be written in a humorous vein.
My friend had flown out west to go to her mother-in-law’s funeral, held in a Buddhist temple as the in-laws are of mixed heritage. Everyone was there, including those who had flown in fromJapan.
Well, the sister-in-law took one look at her mother lying in the coffin and demanded the presence of the make-up artist. Then, with all mourners present, she had the woman re-do the dead woman’s makeup. Additionally, after that was finished, she was dissatisfied with the way her mother’s boobs looked and had the make-up artist readjust them in some manner.
As horrified as my friend was, she now recognizes the humor in the situation, but only, she said, as a tool for writers. She also recognized that it could also represent something quite serious. And, as I write this, it occurs to me that this type of person—the sister-in-law—could provide the idea for a clue in a mystery, or even the impetus for the mystery itself.
While I haven’t yet used this type of character in a novel, I recently had an experience that is probably going to end up in my next Mollie Fenwick mystery.
I recently started a new mystery series involving a young Chicago P.I. woman, and while that book is on the shelf for now, it is often on my mind. A couple days ago I had a dream where I ended up going toChicagoto take a P.I. exam, took a side trip toEvanstonto take part in a music event, and then the police arrested me for possession. My time studying voice at Northwestern, my new P.I. novel and my finished but not published police procedural all figured into the dream. From that, I got the beginnings of the plot for my next book in the Mollie Fenwick Series, not about music or a P.I. exam, but about my character’s
arrest while investigating a football player she thinks is involved in some nasty stuff.
While I was the person who triggered the above idea, there is an incident in my first mystery, Murder by Mistake, that resulted from a person I met in real life, and I had to put it in my book. In this scene, Mollie’s neighbor chases after her cat and then lectures him for leaving the apartment when she’d left the door open. Her rationalization – she told the cat to stay inside. The lady I met actually thought her cat would understand her instructions to “stay inside.” .
In short, people do some strange things, and many of them can contribute to any number of fictional scenes, whether they be funny, poignant, or dark. I’ve read many books with fascinating and wonderful characters that are hard to forget, and wonder at their origin. Did a real human “suggest” the character, or were they perhaps a composite of several. Whatever the case, there’s a lot out there for us writers, and I look forward to reading about many more memorable characters.
Joan K. Maze