Where do characters come from?
Updated: Jun 1, 2021
The main character in my novel Needing Napoleon could easily be mistaken for me at first glance. After all, he is a teacher of history and so was I. He looks roughly like me (maybe ten years ago!) too. He even suffers some of the same doubts. But it would be a mistake to think he is me. He is all alone in his life. An orphan without a partner or any close friends. So not me, after all!
I suppose he is a repository for things I worried I might become at various points in my life. He is a basically decent human being who just feels out of step. Most of us can relate to that feeling at some point in our lives, can't we?
He has spent a lot of time trying to do the right thing even when it seemed to be taking him further and further from what he wanted. The pressure of that builds up until he is prepared to consider a radical alternative. This is a prerequisite for my plot to work!
I always wanted to be a writer. But I also wanted to do the right thing. It took a long time to realise the two things weren't mutually exclusive. And that was only possible when I was financially secure. I have no illusions about big sales. So, the right thing was to earn a living in the best way possible. For me, that meant a rewarding life in teaching and school management. I got to work with some fantastic people. I don't regret it. Nor do I regret retiring early to write!
This was supposed to be a blog about characters. I started out to explain the threads of me running through my main character while denying he is me. I seem to have ended up talking more about myself! But seriously, I think most good characters are part real person and part imagination, partly realistic and partly fantastic.
A strong fictional character might possess exaggerated elements of real people but he or she is also likely to be in a particular situation or predicament. The character's predilections collide with his or her circumstances. That's one of the sources of tension needed to make a story.