With four novels under my belt, I’ve spent lots of time thinking about how writers create believable characters that readers want to hang out with. Not surprisingly, there isn’t any formula to follow. For me, characters start from a seed that might have had a previous life in someone I actually know in real life. But just as often, that seed started with a name or a vague idea and evolved from there.
In my novel Fling!, the two main characters, Feather and Bubbles, did originate in females in my family. Though I’m not a former hippie and visual artist as Feather is, I did clothe her with a few of my characteristics based on my relationship with my actual mother. And Bubbles, Feather’s mother in the novel, has definite roots in my own irrepressible mum. From there, though, these women took on lives apart from my experiences and drove the narrative in directions that completely surprised me.
In contrast, Curva Peligrosa, from the novel of the same name, didn’t have any connection to an actual person I have known. I just wanted to create a larger-than-life female character totally unlike me in almost every way. She is over six feet tall, amoral, fearless, powerful, and yet fully feminine. But it wasn’t until I stumbled on her name that she completely took shape in my mind.
Early in the process of writing this novel, my husband and I visited Mexico City; Curva’s origins are in southern Mexico. When we landed, a driver was waiting to take us to a resort we had booked into in Cuernavaca, a small town a two-hour drive away. At each curve we approached, I noticed the words “curva peligrosa” and recognized the Spanish for dangerous curve. That’s when it hit me! Curva Peligrosa was my character’s name. Once I found it, her personality blossomed immediately. I could hear the sound of her voice and her laugh. I knew what she looked like (she resembles Katy Jurado, the once-famous Mexican actress that appeared in High Noon), and the book took off.
Another character that the novel Curva Peligrosa gave birth to is Billie One Eye, one half Blackfoot and one half Scottish (on his mother’s side). Billie totally surprised me. He walked off of a Canadian Blackfoot reservation, a place on the prairies I had visited once when I was around twelve years old. And he proceeded to take up a sizable role in the narrative, adding ballast and balance to Curva. He has inherited his mother’s red hair, and eventually takes over his father’s role as tribal chief. Clearly, I have no Native Canadian heritage to draw on, but I did extensive research and learned a good deal about the Blackfoot and Billie’s quest as a creator of totems, masks, and other indigenous art.
Would love to hear other’s stories of their character’s origins and evolution!