Where, for example, did Mr. Ripley of The Talented Mr. Ripley come from? Patricia Highsmith, the very talented suspense writer , developed a fascinating character in Mr. Ripley.
He is a pure sociopath. Where in Miss Highsmith’s head did he come from?
As I’m reading, I wonder where Mr. China came up with such an clever murderer who scares the bejesus out of me. At the same time, I’m waiting for something likable about this killer. For some reason, I don’t think I’ll find anything.
For example, Jenna Scali, who is my cozy mystery protagonist, is a young woman who is working and going to school (something I did). She works for a psychiatrist (something I did) and her father died when she was a young child (something that happened to me.). We differ in many other ways. For example, her mom is Irish and quite the Southern woman. My mom is a pure New Yorker.
I’d never go trampling around in the woods looking for a killer. Jenna is in love with a policeman (something I never did.) My secondary characters really differ most from me. They seem to appear as I write and they are such fun. Jenna’s best friend is a gay Englishman who teaches history. He’s nothing like me, but I’d sure love to have a friend like him.
I’ve never been an alcoholic; I’ve never been abused and I’ve never been depressed. I know all about these things, though, through my past careers. Marlene is like me in her determination and her moral standards. Her sister, Janie, on the other hand, is nothing like me. And, I might add, nothing like my younger sister. Nonetheless Marlene and Janie at 18 months apart in age (as are me and my sister). Their mother, Eloise, resembles no one I know. She probably evolved in the same way Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley evolved. What fun to think about. Where do your characters come from?
Paul Carr says
Good blog, Joan! I write about crime, suspense, and mystery. Since I don’t know anyone who fits any of that, I make them up. My protagonist and his sidekicks evolved over a number of years before I finished my first published book. I’ve tried to keep them true to form throughout the series. The nonrecurring characters evolve, too, since I don’t normally have them firmly in my mind until at least halfway through the story. Sometimes I have to backtrack because of that.
Joan Curtis says
Hi Paul, Thanks for stopping by. I agree that we often don’t run into killers (I hope), but they do come from somewhere. I also find myself backtracking when new characters that I hadn’t counted on appear. That’s part of what makes it fun to write. Suddenly someone new emerges and sometimes they take on a very important role. Much of what we write comes from subconscious memories–things we’ve heard but may not even remember. Jumble all that up and you get a creation you never expected.
Anne Stenhouse says
Hi Joan, It’s the first big hurdle a writer encounters between creating the character and publication – will people think this is me? And it’s a real hurdle because they often do.
I tend to listen for the ‘voice’ of my characters to be heard. I still find it very hard to describe them, but if I can hear them then that’s great. I never use an entire character from real life, but amalgamate traits.
Newspapers are, sadly, a good source for descriptions of villains and their villainy. Anne Stenhouse
Joan Curtis says
Hi Anne. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I absolutely agree about newspapers. I just found a wonderful potential villain who is a young man on the FBI most wanted list. He’s attractive, speaks fluent French, has a Master’s Degree in International Biz and he’s an avid golfer, snowboarder, skier and dirt biker. He sounds like the perfect sociopath! The scary thing is this man lives and breathes somewhere.
James Dunn says
Just wanted to stop by and say how much I enjoy reading your blog posts. They always make me think a little harder about what I’m writing. Keep up the great work.
Pearl R. Meaker says
First, You are so fortunate to have never been depressed. I’ve lost so much time, energy and creativity in my life to its debilitation.
Most of my characters just seem to pop into my head. I’ll think “I need a police officer.” and one is there in my head. Then as I think about where he’s being placed and how he’ll fit in with the other characters. And then I’ll start getting little thoughts – he has black hair – his eyes are grey – he’s rather skinny for a cop. Stuff like that.
I’ve tried going through a list sort of thing, you know:
Etc. But often that just seems to block the flow of those little thoughts and I often don’t “see” the characters as well either when I try to force it.
Joan Curtis says
Hi Pearl. You are so creative. I love the way your imagination works. Thanks for sharing!