Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


Where do characters come from?

flamingo-3334359_1280During a recent interview, I was asked how I start a novel and create characters. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give this person an answer that was universal. Each book puts different demands on me and has its own particular origins. So I’ll focus here on my most recently released work, Freefall: A Divine Comedy.

This novel called to me when in the 1990s I had a mini-reunion with two of women I’d been close to in my late teens. There had been four of us altogether, and we moved from Calgary to Toronto where we ended up living for a couple of years. We called ourselves the Big Four and thought we were hot stuff. Under financial stress and personality differences, the friendships broke apart, and Toronto was the last time we four spent time together.

During the mini-reunion, I wondered what would happen if all four women got together. Would they recapture what had originally united them? Or would the disputes predominate, preventing any deepening between them. This question drove my quest in what became Freefall. The results surprised me.

While I used some elements of these former friends personalities, I embellished them extensively till they would be unrecognizable if the three other members of the Big Four were to read the book. I wanted each one to be distinctive, adding to the potential tension between them. I had in mind the color wheel where some colors are complimentary and others are totally opposite. As for Tillie Bloom, the narrator and main character, while her name rhymes with Lily, she only loosely resembles me and is my total opposite—perhaps my alter ego.

The test, of course, was assembling all four women in the same narrative and seeing what would transpire. The fun for me, the author, was in discovering how they would interact and what aspects of their personalities would dominate. When I started out, I had no idea these characters would take me to Venice for the last two thirds of the novel, a mysterious city that I love. It was a perfect setting for the magical realism threads that appear in Italy.





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