Inventing Characters

From this interview with Barbara Kingslover:

“Like all authors, I’m asked if characters are biographical, if I put people I know into my fiction. You can see from my process that that would be impossible for me. I begin by seeing a narrative, so I can’t put people I know in it—they simply wouldn’t behave properly, they wouldn’t be cooperative and do what I asked of them. So I invent the people I need, and that’s a lot more fun anyway. I can continually refine the characters, their histories, and their damage, until they are exactly the right people I need.”

I think this is one of the best responses to the “Who’s this character based on?” question ever. I hate when people assume that fiction comes entirely out of your life experiences. I tend to find the particular characters who are experiencing this particular story. Sometimes that matches up with things I’ve experienced or heard about in real life, but a lot of the time it comes from learning more about that character and that story.

Do you tend to invent your characters, use people you’ve met in real life, or a combination?

3 thoughts on “Inventing Characters

  1. I quite often start with someone I know just for the physical appearance because I find it hard to visualise my characters. So I’ll steal a hairstyle or a skin tone or some broad characteristics like a laugh or other mannerisms, but that’s as far as it goes. Then the characters evolve as I get to know them better.

  2. I love inventing characters. It is god-like. But I would feel terrible doing the things that I do to my characters if those characters were in anyway based on real people I know. The exception to that rule is the aspects of myself that leak into my characters.

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