|'The Girl with a Pearl Earring'|
by Johannes Vermeer,
via Wikimedia Commons
How do you create your characters? I find that sometimes they bounce into your head fully formed, but sometimes they evolve as your story evolves and you get to know them. Sometimes a character in a newspaper or magazine photograph begs to be written into your story – but sometimes you have to sit down and search for them.
I like using photographs as a stimulus and it's good to have them by you as you write, to remind you of that stubbly chin or that faraway look, or the eyes the colour of the sea in November.
Perhaps one single image can set off a complete idea for a novel. Think of Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – she must have had a moment of blinding inspiration sitting in front of Vermeer's famous portrait. Interpreting the look on the face of the little serving girl and developing her imaginings into a full-length novel – how brilliant is that?
Film stars are a great source of inspiration, not so much because we use their personalities as the basis for characters (which of us really knows a film star?), but because of how they look.
Quite often, I find that characters and plot are inextricably linked. The story would not have been set in train at all, for example, if Joe hadn't been such a dozy guy that he completely forgot to bring flowers home on his first wedding anniversary/forgot to turn up for a crucial meeting/stepped out in front of a car and got himself run over because he was dreaming about Jane.
So far so good. But what happens when the character you're writing about is based on someone you know? Your mother-in-law, for example? Does that inhibit you or stimulate you? What will she say when she reads it?
I haven't actually tried this technique yet, but I'm assured by some very experienced writers that people never do recognise themselves – and if the character is bossy, or malicious, or greedy, or has some other negative trait, they are quite likely to 'recognise' the woman down the road! I'm really tempted to try it and see what happens.
Have you ever based your character of someone you know? And have there ever been repercussions? Do tell!