Where do those characters come from?

One of my colleagues at work read my draft manuscript for The Beggar’s Opera and said it gave him a really strange feeling knowing I was the author.

“These characters aren’t you at all, Peggy,” he said, “and yet you created them. How is that possible? You’re not Ramirez; you’re definitely not Apiro. And you’re sure as hell not Mike Ellis.”

I don’t have an answer for that. The characters obviously come from some part of my imagination, my experience. And yet he’s right. They walk, talk and think in their own voices, not mine, and they seem to quite often have plans of their own.

Ramirez is far more pragmatic than I am. Apiro, the pathologist, is probably smarter than I am, and definitely more grounded, more accepting of life’s burdens and opportunities.

Where do they come from?  

Anne Lamott says: “I’ve always sort of believed that these people inside me- these characters- know who they are and what they’re about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don’t type.” 

Richard Peck says  “We don’t write what we know.  We write what we wonder about.” 

I agree with Peck, mostly. But then there was Hemingway, whose own life was as interesting as any book I’ve ever read. Yet even Hemingway  said: “Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.”

How are we able to develop characters who are more interesting, more complex, better able to handle situations in real life than we are? It’s a mystery in itself.

We get to not only create them but put them in danger and experience their adrenalin rush without taking any chances. (No real people were harmed in the writing of this mystery.) Talk about vicarious living! But it still begs the question, how the heck do we do it?

I’m like Lamott. I had the feeling those characters were out there, living their lives, and I managed somehow to tap into them. What do you think?

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5 Responses to Where do those characters come from?

  1. I think of them as spirits with stories to tell. If we listen closely, we can hear and write down those stories.


  2. Laura Best says:

    I’ve actually said something very similar to that before, “those characters were out there, living their lives, and I managed to somehow tap into them.” Great post!


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