Does Your Main Character Look Familiar?

JESSFBDSC02464I blush to admit, the first time I really heard and understood the word “epiphany” was in the 1991 movie Hook:

Smee:
I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Captain Hook:
I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee:
No… lightning has just struck my brain.

Captain Hook:
Well, that must hurt.

According to Meriam dictionary,  an epiphany is a “moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” My epiphany was kinda like that.

Let me ask you first. For those of you who write — in any form — do you have a face or person in mind for your main characters? I often need (or want) a general idea in the flesh of what my peeps look like. Not exact, of course, but a basic form from which I can expand.  Through the years I’ve used characteristics of Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind), Derek Jacobi (Hamlet), Jafar (Aladdin), Maggie Smith (Hook), Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones). I’ve changed hairstyles, eyes, and personalities. I don’t use faces whose personalities I can’t stand, or whose character I can’t stand.

This blockage can almost be a writer’s block in terms of the ebb and flow of the story. It’s not the do all/be all, but let’s just say it helps. And I’m sad when I just can’t picture my hero/heroine.

So to my epiphany.

I’ve got this novel I’ve GOT TO FINISH EDITING, and all this time I cannot find a real face to match the heroine of my time travel space odyssey. So on my drive home from work I asked my Spirit Guide(s) to give me an idea of face to go with my astral traveller. And who popped into my head but my best friend.

Now, that may seem stupid. It may seem that my friend was the basis for the character all along. If so, it was oblivious to me. But once I put two and two together, I kind of freaked. After all, she is my soulie mate. My bud. My creative and laughing counterpart.

And I’m not sure she will be thrilled.

Oh, I know, book characters are louder and brighter and meaner and crazier than real life. They need to be in order to keep one’s attention. But sometimes the parallels become distorted between the two, and the model is afraid that’s how one really sees them. One of my blogger friends based a character on her mother, and her mother loved it. Other writers have barely veiled the horrors from their childhood or failed marriages or teachers they had in school and don’t care who knows it.

My book’s heroine is a great personality, just like my friend. But she is way kookier, more impulsive, and more off base than most people I know. She is bigger than life. Her gestures, her vocabulary, are just a part of her over-exaggerated personality.

And I love her.

But is it my friend? Does it matter that my heroine is bits and pieces of a number of people I’ve known in my life?

I suppose if I made my characters pedophiles or torturers it might offend the model they’re based on (if they ever read the story). But seeing as I can’t really write agony and horror and desperation, I don’t think anyone will be offended if my characters of kids or widows or bank tellers look a little familiar.

I believe every character we create is based on someone we’ve met on our journey though life. Whether it’s in a book somewhere, a movie, or in our actual lives. And I believe this fertile base is ours for the taking.

I still feel bad that I only now realize I’ve tapped into my friend’s physique and charisma to create a brand new person. I wonder if I should tell her. Or let her read the book and figure it out for herself.

Either way, look around you. Inspiration is closer than you think.

And, after all, I doubt if a former sales director will see himself as the crazy, stressed out, flipped out  salesman that gets into poison violet candy…

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