Where do characters come from?

 Since I’m writing fiction, they are invented. Let’s make that clear. On the other hand: what does invented mean? I was trying to explain this to friends over the weekend and they had the inevitable questions about names and physical descriptions and other particulars that define a character. The easy answer is that my characters are amalgamations of people I’ve known. Someone’s eyes are mixed with another mouth and yet a third’s hair color. Voila, a fictional character. After all, I need my characters to do what I need them to do. We can skip the whole ‘my characters led me….’ discussion here. Yes, characters develop their ‘own’ personality and there are moments when you realize that what you’ve written doesn’t sound like them. But, trust me, I’m ultimately in control. They do not seize the keyboard (although if they would, that would be lovely. Ah to wake up and find that next scene written!). Back to the point… and the question posed over the weekend. A friend suggested I include one of our mutual friends in my next book. It was meant as a nod to someone we both admire, something he would think was fun and flattering. But wait. Does that mean I use his name and he’s a one-line character, a waiter in a passing scene, for example. My friend is most definitely not a waiter so it would be a fictional part, but he would read the name and know that I’d included him. Later, I jokingly asked if he would want to be the killer or the victim. He picked victim, specifically requesting a glamorous demise to start the book off in style. Now I have to draw the line. You see, I might not be able to separate the character from the person. I would want the real person to identify with ‘their’ character and, guess what, that would mean I’m no longer in control. I could drop the name of a contest winner in with no problem. I create the character and then assign the name. Both are ‘fictional’ to me. But to blend the fiction with the reality could be tricky. Anyone ever named their victim after a good friend? How’d that turn out?  

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