Creating Characters

I woke up at 1:25 this morning. When I had trouble getting back to sleep, I started to develop this post. Let me see how much of it I can actually remember…

Characters are my strong point, without a doubt. I believe this is for two reasons:

1.) Whenever my mom and I had to wait somewhere, like at a restaurant, we would quietly make up things about the people around us: Our waitress was in hiding from a terrorist organization; The man at the bar is a spy, etc. Our stories differed widely, as she reads James Patterson crime novels, and I try to read, you know, good books.

2.) I steal. Ruthlessly. Most of my characters are a form of fan-fiction. My most enduring character (one I’ve been kicking around since I was ten years old) is based on MacBeth from Disney’s Gargoyles (best story arc ever, btw!). I will often take a character from another work and make them my own; This is especially easy to do with movies, since you get a limited amount of back-story and internal dialogue. I will also base characters on actors or people I know personally. This makes it significantly easier to illustrate a character’s physicality – not only their appearance, but also their quirks.

For example, I recently wrote a short story which included a character based on James Callis (I’m not a swooning fangirl for him, so I will admit to this). If you’re not familiar with the name, he played Giaus Baltar in Battlestar Galactica and Dr. Grant in Eureka. A friend of mine who recently received his MFA complimented me on how well-rounded the character was, because I was able to illustrate Callis’s habit of “looking fretful” and his speaking patterns. I also made him very cautious, hedging, and hesitant, unlike his foil character, who is based on an actor (for whom I am a stark raving fangirl atm, so I will not mention his name) who is known for playing boisterous, assertive, seductive characters (If you can guess who it is, I will give you a cookie).

          The men exchanged a look. Percival shrugged and took the opportunity to light a cigarette. He offered Callahan one, which was refused. Percival knew his friend was trying to quit, and never passed up a chance to tease him mercilessly for it.

            “What do you think that was about?” Callahan asked. […]

            “Maybe she’s feeling ill?” Percival suggested.

            Surrendering, Callahan beckoned for Percival’s cigarette and took a drag.

Perhaps I will publish the entire short here later, but I want to shop it for a bit longer before I do.

In fact, in the short I did publish here – Singing Taylor Swift in the Snow – my characters were not based on anyone, which may be why they come across as so flat. The only one that was clearly formed in my mind was Wyatt.

In the project I’m writing now, almost everyone is based on someone. This made the antagonist especially easy to write (except I had to adapt an American character from a British actor, the same one I would not mention above). I had fun adding little quirks that made my characters more human: Heather hisses through her teeth when she disapproves of something. Rhodes tugs on the hair at the back of his head when he’s frustrated. Steyer plays with pens when he’s thinking. Byron won’t. Stop. Staring. Krunal has a tendency to draw out his words and speak with his hands. Rob constantly plays with his beard. Tech is constantly laughing, even when he’s hurting. Witt… well, I won’t mention what Witt does… (Out of all these characters – ironically – my main character, Heather, is the only one not based on anyone specific.)
Let’s talk Tech. Not technology, but “Tech” is short for “EOD Technician.” Tech is Heather’s grandfather, and he’s in his early-70’s. He is a Vietnam vet and a big joker. He had a habit of spinning yarns, and no one ever really knows how to untangle the truth from the lies. When we first meet Tech, everyone calls him “Tex” (except Heather and Monica, who call him “Grandpa”), because no one really knows his history, and he never bothered to correct them (much like Obi-Wan Kenobi/”Old Ben”). It is not until much later that we learn his name is Tech. This moment is one of my favorite exchanges, because it pulls unexpected behavior from two firmly-established characters. I just wrote it down last night, but it’s been in my head for quite some time.

“Now,” Kondorf began, “a note on Mr. Brewer: He’s a real joker, usually. He might be serious, seeing as it’s Heather missing, but if it were anything else, you may have to ask him for a straight answer before he’ll give you one.”

“Oh, and nobody calls him ‘Mr. Brewer,'” Byron added as the front door opened. A man in his 70’s stepped out the door, no longer red-haired, no longer wiry, but still with a mischievous glint in his bright blue eyes.”Everyone calls him – ”

“Tech…” Steyer said.

“It’s Tex, Sir,” Byron stammered, confused.

“Oh, no, son,” Steyer assured him. “It’s Tech.” He took a few steps forward, just to get a closer look. An unfamiliar grin spread across his face, and his yell shocked everyone: “You son of a bitch!”

Tech has his own tragic history, which drove him to spending much of his life drunk, until he unexpectedly finds himself the guardian of a fifteen-year-old. Sobering up was rough for him, but successful, but staying sober throughout the events of the novel is a fresh challenge. He is, perhaps, the second-most tragic character of the story, despite of (and because of) his sense of humor. One of my favorite details about him is how clumsy he is with new technology. He says, “I can disarm a nuclear warhead, but I can’t [insert iPad reference here].”

Tech sprang into my mind so clearly because I imagined Robert Englund (Freddy himself, of course), who still seems to be spritely (or should I say “impish”?) for his age.


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