Where do your characters come from? (Kathy Pritchett)

The blog topic for February is Where do your characters come from? Some days, I wish I knew.

           Take Scott Aylward, the hero of my upcoming novel What the River Knows. The idea for the book and character came to me over 20 years ago, but I didn’t dig it out to work on until the last few years. To come up with a suitable name for a dedicated police officer, I researched baby names, trying to find names that meant guardian or protector. Among the ones I found were Biron, Randy, William, Del and Aylward. I decided Aylward made a good last name, though Del found a home as the first name of Scott’s partner. Because Scott is ADD and tends to wander off task, I chose between Wendell and Scott (both mean wanderer) for his first name. Tell me, doesn’t Scott sound sexier than Wendell?

            For his wife, who is a real witch with a capital B, I searched for names that mean “rules the home.” I found Henrietta and Rica. Since her mother is Mexican, Rica seemed a better fit. She is closely based on the woman I NEVER want to be. Demanding, self-centered, angry. A recent Beta reader decided early on that Scott needed to ditch her.

            Scott’s mentor and “spirit guide” through the book is Al Conrad, a widowed newspaper editor. In its variations, Al means “wise.” Conrad means “honest, brave advisor.” Al is just the guide Scott needs to get through the changes that befall him in the book.

            The victim is named Delia Stillman Enfield. Both Dalia and Stillman mean gentle. Her ex-husband (also referred to as a “starter” husband by a motivational speaker on positive thinking) is a simple man, nicknamed “Joker” like his tattoo. His first name, Ellery, means joker, while his last name, Enfield, means simple. Delia was known as Margaret Stillman in high school but began using her middle name as a first name during college. The name change from Margaret Stillman to Delia Enfield mirrors the metamorphosis she underwent during the transition from teen to adult. Yet her change is not as drastic as that of her best friend.

            As is often the case, the characters in a novel embody traits of the author. Like Scott, I am attention deficit disordered (which is why I would never make a good cop. It’s not healthy to be holding a gun on a suspect only to be distracted by a squirrel as he’s about to shoot back.) Unlike Scott, I never played football, though I survived a divorce. I also understand the off-duty life of a cop, because I was married to one for 21 years. Like Scott, I often second-guess myself and doubt my competence. Like Scott, I also grew up in a stoic family of hard-working farmers.

            I guess the characters come from within—within the writer and within the story itself. They take on a life of their own and often defy the writer’s plans for them. And some days, they tell a better story than we intended.


Joan Vincent said...

I agree that characters are often taken from parts of ourselves. I too have used babybooks and the internet to find names that fit the strength of my character. A good post!