Where do my characters come from? (Kate O’Hara)

I’ve been writing for less than a year, so am a novice at the various elements of structure like character and plot development. I also have to admit to feeling a bit like a fraud in that my writing is memoir driven. A disclaimer preface in all my books states: The following story is like many movies today—based on “true” events. Literary license allows me to leave out some of the boring parts and enhance some others for your entertainment.

So, the obvious answer to the source of my characters is real life people. Luckily, I am of an age where most of the characters I have written about are long gone and can’t be either flattered or embarrassed by inclusion. Each of the characters is based on someone specific with name changed (of course). I don’t always make these characters as well-rounded as they were in real life, but emphasize certain traits to tell the story from the perspective I have chosen. A few of the characters are composites of several people who played a similar part in propelling the plot along. In all cases, the characters are people I thought were important enough in my own life to earn a spot in print.

Character names come from a variety of sources, of course. I like to give a nod to my current friends by using their first names for characters. This is always with permission, of course, and their approval to be associated with such a character. My tall, dark gun dog judge friend in Washington lent her name to the petite, blonde ballroom dancer in one story. Another writer with an unusual first name was pleased to become a rather flamboyant character in my “Seeker” series of short stories. I always send her clips of the stories where I use her name to make sure she likes them.

I’m past seventy and the “Greek Fire” series I write takes place in the 1960s. I found myself checking for obituaries of those people I wanted to include so I wouldn’t “out” them or some of their less glorious behaviors from that era. Recently I discovered that one minor character I had outlined for a little subplot was alive and still in the media. Even though I had not seen him in nearly 50 years, I took a few minutes to call and say hello. He barely remembered me, of course. I wasn’t even a blip on his radar at the time, but he did have an impact on my life back then. I opted to cut him and the whole subplot from the story rather than take a chance someone would recognize him in his wilder days. You’re welcome, Don. J


Joan Vincent said...

I still feel like a writing fraud at times even after over almost 40 years of writing. Reading your post and those of other WARA writers is always comforting because they show how alike we are even as we are different.