During a reading in Portland last week, a reader asked how I create my characters. I explained the characters generally create themselves. ‘The Muse’ speaks, and they appear. Or do they? The answer is sometimes ‘the Muse’, and sometimes me. My heroine, Jana Matinova is a doppleganger for a woman I know, respect and admire in Slovakia. She is brave, courageous in adversity and unflagging in following through with her convictions. She is the model for Commander Matinova but is not, as in the novel, a commander in the police. Jana’s (fictional) supervisor in the police, Colonel Trokan, is also a doppelganger of someone else I know in Slovakia. Not a police officer, but charming, bright, serious about his work, and when the occasion calls for it, very, very humorous. For me, the two jumped onto the page. They were there just waiting to be written. The readers I talked with at the reading also felt the characters, as written, were alive and real. And yet, there are other characters for her, and others, that also jumped onto the page who were not, to my knowledge, drawn from real life.
So, where did they come from, who created them? When they appeared on the page fleshing themselves out they were as real to me as people that I know, as real as Matinova and Trokan in their actual personas. There they were, talking, walking, independent human beings who acted seemingly without any real volition on my part. They did what they did, surprising me; they were individuals as interesting as those based on ‘real’ people. And, surprise, we had never been formally introduced. I’ve had critics talk about these characters, seeing them as people who itched and scratched just as the other characters did. And their itching and scratching on the page astonished me. Who magicked that person into the book? One critic said he wanted to see a certain character again, perhaps as a protagonist of another novel, simply because he was so vividly real. He was? Well, he was real, on the page, if I do say so myself, although we had not met each other before the casting director (the Muse) slipped him into the story.
So, where do characters come from? I think the story must be real to the writer. If it is, the characters are real. If not, the book probably fails. I guess I have a partnership with ‘the Muse’: We write the stories together; and the characters. And if I haven’t met the characters before, if they’re newly introduced by ‘the Muse’, I’m very happy they show up while I’m writing. It’s always nice to meet someone new. They’re interesting people, and besides, it wouldn’t be a very good story without them. As a writer, I welcome everybody’s assistance. Even strangers.
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