A couple of years back, I did something I’ve never done. I wrote a story about me, fictionalized it, embellished parts, changed some facts to make it more interesting, then submitted it to the publisher who’d requested it, and got it published. Sound simple? For most writers, this would be a dream. A publisher approaches you and asks for a story. You write the story and the story is published. Yet for me, it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, first because it was about my fight with cancer, and there were many things I didn’t want to relive with that. And second, because it was a story that put me out there on the line, stood me front and center on every page. I honestly debated writing the story, and even after I signed the contract, I put off the writing because, as a writer, I love the part where I get to hide behind the characters I create and the stories I invent. With this story, though, I was going to have to lay it all out there pretty bare and, for me, that wasn’t an easy thing to do.
When facing my misgivings though, I got to thinking about how much, as writers, we put into our books. Blood, sweat and tears aside, do we create characters that are a part of ourselves? Or do we create characters based on people who have touched our lives? A dear friend of mine, a mentor of sorts, once told me about his childhood, and how he was raised in an orphanage run by nuns. One nun in particular was brutal, a child abuser, if you will. She beat my friend mercilessly on more occasions than he could remember because she believed every child needed to be beaten into submission and obedience. That was a lifetime of cruel experience that never left him.
My friend went on to become one of the great horror writers whose work has become part of the culture. But with all his successes in life, he never got over the nun, and in some form, he killed her in every one of the books he ever wrote. Only he knew who she was in the book, and only a few selected people knew he did this. That was him laying it all out there bare, and every time he killed that nun it agonized him all over again. Not the part where he killed her but the memories of suffering at her hand. Yet he still did it, had to do it, maybe was even obsessed to do it. He called it his catharsis.
When I created my alter character for my story though, I wasn’t obsessed to do it. I didn’t need a catharsis. I didn’t need to release any pent-up emotions. But I was reluctant to do this because I wasn’t particularly thrilled to let the world know I went a little crazy for a time. I wrote the story anyway, then suddenly, there it was, in print, for everybody to witness. Me, on that page. Which made me wonder how much of myself I’ve put into characters in the other books I’ve written, where the heroine has done amazing, or wonderful or even stupid things. I’m pretty sure I’m not consciously scripting me into my stories, like my friend scripted some manifestation of his nun. But as I’m often asked, just where do you find your characters? From life, I usually tell them. Or from observation. Honestly, I don’t really know. Characters just seem to pop into my head when I need them to pop, then they develop as they need to develop. Maybe they are me, or parts of me. Could be they’re bits and pieces of everybody I know. Or maybe they’re pure fantasy.
Truth is, I think my characters are a vast store of life experience. They’re no one in particular, and yet they’re everyone I meet. I met a young man whose passion in life is writing, yet creating the characters is what scares him the most. He doesn’t know where they’ll come from, or if they’ll come when he decides to write a book. He doesn’t know how to instill traits in them, or create stories for them that someone may relate to. “The other parts are easy,” he said. “I can make up stories all day, but I just can’t put the characters in them.” Makes me wonder if he has a brutal nun in his past who might fit the bill. Or maybe all he has to do is face himself, and leave some of that on the page. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve created a lot of different characters over the course of my writing career and, God willing, I’ll be creating a lot more. But the one who has scared me the most was me.
So tell me, how much of you goes into the characters you create?
By the way, I finally have a new book coming out in July. It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those, due to my recent illness. But it’s great to be back at it again. Doctor, Mommy…Wife? (or, Doctor, Mummy…Wife?) will be on sale in all the usual places. For more info, check my website at www.Dianne-Drake.com or visit me on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/DianneDrake
Until next time…wishing you health and happiness!