I don’t even know these people

Last week I gave another friend my “elevator pitch” about the novel and the historical characters on whom I’m basing my story. While most people express surprise at how strange and unlikely the reality was, she asked a question that I’d not heard before:

“Do you like any of your characters?”

It’s a good one, especially considering that part of what made me want to write this story is that none of the people involved seemed like they’d be overly pleasant to deal with, even before taking fictional liberties. As it stands now my protagonist is an unstable con man, the man he is conning is pious and obsessive, the pious man’s wife is an angry control freak, and the con-man’s wife is shaping up to be timid and naive.

As such, these people are lots of fun to write (because happy, stable characters are boring), but I can’t say I’d want to hang out with any of them!

Having said this, I have compassion for them as well: the con man gets in way over his head, the pious man’s needs drive him to compromise his principles, the control freak is lonely and frustrated, and the milquetoast may well be the sanest person in the room.

I suppose it’s good that I appreciate their strengths as well as their weaknesses. After all, if readers unconsciously emulate their favorite fictional characters, imagine what it’s like for those of us who write them.

My mixed emotions also come from the fact that all of the characters embody aspects of myself, and not always my best points. I suppose this is inevitable because the only head I’ve ever been in is my own. I’ve been obsessive, angry, questioning, and out of my depth; incredibly I’ve even been the sanest person in the room at times. While this may not make my characters pleasant, I hope it makes them relatable.

And they continue to take shape as I write them. Just this week I wrote one making a gaffe that embarrasses another and I’m still not sure how their different personalities are going to deal with the aftermath. I just keep referring back to my character profiles for cues and hope that something believable comes out in the narrative wash.

In short – do I like them? Sorta and not, but honestly I’m still getting to know them.

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