Writing Wednesday: Where Do You Get Your Characters?

Writers are often asked where they get ideas for characters. Are they based on real people?

I have a writer friend who once told me her characters always start out based on people she knows before becoming true fictional characters.

I’ve done that, but I’ve also started with totally fictionalized characters sparked by a random comment or idea.

Photo from DepositPhotos

Another friend told me about her cousin who was married to a professional athlete and the demands put on the wives of the team members. We lived in Southern California at the time and attended church with a Los Angeles Dodger team member’s family. I ran into the wife at our shared pediatrician’s office one day and she was dressed gorgeously with perfect hair and make up. I got to thinking about the stress of having to look flawless every time you left the house, even if your child was ill and you were taking him or her to the doctor.

That led to the heroine of my first completed (but still unpublished) novel, Curveball. Cami is intensely private, but ends up in a relationship with a professional baseball player, under constant scrutiny. For added stress, she is stalked. Because I’m mean that way.

The protagonist in my work in progress (WIP) is a young widow. I haven’t been widowed, but I’ve had widowed friends and family members.

I read several books in the last few years with young widowed protagonists that really stayed with me, and they definitely influenced my choice to make my protagonist a young widow.

THE FIVE STAGES OF FALLING IN LOVE by Rachel Higginson. Liz’s husband died six months before the book starts, from an aggressive cancer. She’s barely hanging on, getting her kids to school, keeping the house standing. The beginning of this book is laugh-out-loud funny and had me hooked.

THE LIFE INTENDED by Kristin Harmel. Harmel is making a career for herself now writing World War II fiction set in France. This is not one of those. It’s an earlier book of hers (published in 2014), a contemporary story set in New York City. Kate’s been a widow for over ten years, when her husband was killed in an accident. She was overwhelmed by grief for years, but she’s finally moving on, engaged to a nice man. She should be excited, but she’s not. Then her dead husband starts appearing in her dreams. Very vivid dreams. And Kate sees the life they would have had if he hadn’t died. This leads her to wonder if Patrick is sending her a message and if she’s really ready to move on after all. She learns about sign language and the NY foster care system and her life takes another unexpected turn.

THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS by Abbi Waxman. Lillian has been widowed for three years, and raising her two daughters alone. The youngest is too little to have any real memories of her father, killed in an accident in front of their house. Lillian is an illustrator, and assigned to draw vegetables for a series of guides. Her boss sends her to a gardening class, so she brings her kids and her sister along. The group of beginning gardeners form friendships, and Lillian and the instructor hit it off too.

All of these books showed women working out and through their grief in different ways.

Another friend recently told me a story about a young widow she’d met. The woman was very attractive and someone commented that she must have lots of men pursuing her since she was single, intelligent, and beautiful. The woman said, no, just the opposite, actually. That men felt threatened by her dead husband. In a divorce, there’s no competition. But with death, if the husband was still alive, the new guy wouldn’t be in the picture. That’s definitely a plot element in THE LIFE INTENDED. I’m still working out how much of that to include in my own story.

Stay tuned to see what happens. That book will release February 2022. There will be a cover and title reveal in the coming months!

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