I’ve had a wild spring full of peaks and valleys, nooks and crannies.
Many of you probably know that bracketed by the extreme merriment of the mystery conventions, Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic, was my dad’s death in April.
Then less than a week after I returned home from Malice, my husband and I hopped a plane for Budapest where we began a two-and-a-half week vacation, most of it cruising the Danube River.
At Chicks on the Case, I wrote about some of the memorable characters I met, which I hope will find their way into future books.
These people, and the character studies they’ve provoked in me, have lodged themselves firmly in my psyche. I can’t stop thinking about characters.
Over the weekend I went to the bridal shower for my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I was meeting most of these lovely friends of the bride for the first time. I noticed the way the hostess immediately made me feel so welcome and at ease. The timbre of another woman’s laugh. The ease with which a childless woman communicated with two small children. The women who wore a lot of make-up, the women who wore none, who was manicured, who, like me, was not. How they each approached the buffet. The diligence with which some attacked the silly games, and the way others didn’t even try, preferring simply to bask in the entertainment as it surrounded them. The deliberate — or haphazard — way each chose colored markers for the games.
Every minute of it was fascinating to me, for two reasons, I think. One, I was still mulling over the people I met on our trip, and two, these women were mostly strangers to me so I was seeing traits and interactions for the first time … no presumed ideas of how they were going to talk, laugh, act, connect.
Which leads me to today.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve got a huge family flung hither and yon. My local siblings and I have been endeavoring to clear out Dad’s house, but it’s slow going. The last time I was there, though, I thought about his grandchildren who lived far away and didn’t have parents sweeping through his house thinking about trinkets and remembrances they might want.
So I gathered up several boxes of stuff that spoke to Dad’s predilections: his horny toad collection, books, suspenders, fancy neckties, baseball pennants, Irish stuff.
Over the weekend I finally had a chance to photograph the items in each category and email them to all my nieces and nephews. I told them to tell me if they wanted any of the items.
I will admit to some preconceived ideas of who would want what, and who probably wouldn’t want anything. In almost every instance I was wrong.
These characters surprised me!
It was another excellent lesson for me about developing fictional characters. Know a lot about them, but let them surprise you.
Writers always get the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” It always seems flip when I answer, “Everywhere,” but that’s the truth.
Characters spring from fellow travelers, from a Dutch waitress, from an inscrutable concierge, from a young Latvian woman on a grand adventure working a job she loves, from friends of your future DIL, and from nieces and nephews you’ve known forever.
Donna Tartt said, “Character, to me, is the life’s blood of fiction.”
To that I’d add it’s also the life’s blood of an interesting life!
Do you have someone in your life who’d make a great character in a novel? Or someone with an interesting trait, some telling detail that gets to the heart of who they are?