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That led to the heroine of my first completed (but still unpublished) novel, Curveball.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!

Woe! It’s Wednesday: Do you NaNo?

I’m deep in the throes of NaNoWriMo.

For those non-writers out there, that stands for National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November. Writers join NaNoWriMo for accountability and fellowship. They each vow to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That’s an average of 1,667 words a day. Not impossible at all. At the end of the month, you should end up with a short, rough, dirty, ugly first draft of a novel.

I’ve attempted NaNo five¬†times in the past and completed it four times. I then spend the better part of the next year rewriting and polishing that ugly thing into something a bit more presentable and suitable for public viewing.

One of the benefits of NaNo is that it gets you in the habit of writing every day. Or on the days you skip, you’re still thinking about your story and letting it percolate, so when you sit down to do twice as many words the next day, they should flow. In theory.

Typically I start strong, right on track for the first week. The middle two weeks are hit and miss. I’m usually seriously behind by at least 15,000 words coming into the final week. Then I put my head down and my fingers on the keyboard and type until the I hit 50,000, usually around 10 PM on November 30th.

In the weeks before November 1, forums and blogs and the Twitterverse are full of people talking about the outlines they’re making, the character sketches they’re completing and how they’re sharpening their pencils in anticipation of NaNo.

I, on the other hand, open a new document on November 1 and start writing the story that’s been brewing in my head for the last couple of months.

I’m writing this post before Wednesday. It’s actually still November 1. I wrote 1802 words today.

Writers love NaNo because it gets us back on track if we’ve strayed from a disciplined writing schedule. I love this quote from Nora Roberts: “You don’t find time to write. You make time to write.” NaNo helps me make time to write. I don’t have publisher deadlines or other exterior motivation. It has to come from within. My critique group is one exterior motivation I rely on. NaNo is the other.

Non-writers are not quite so enthusiastic. This is a real conversation in my house earlier tonight:

Me: Do you know what day it is?

Stud Muffin: … um … the first day of the rest of my life?

Me: Besides that.

SM: … um … November 1st?

Me: Yes. And November 1st is …?

SM: {blank look}

Me: The first day of … NaNoWriMo!

Sm: Oh. NO!

Yes, it’s November. That means Veterans Day, Thanksgiving (in the US) and NaNoWriMo. It’s a good month.