Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It is said that you go to East Africa for the animals and to West Africa for the people. Well, my recent trip to Tanzania did not support that premise at all. Yes, the safari was wonderful, the views on the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro were breathtaking and the close encounters with animals were exciting. But as a writer, I was most intrigued and impacted by the characters that we encountered along the way.

For example, we met Mohammed, a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman, who guided us carefully through the streets of Zanzibar, warning us vociferously against visiting any place that he considered potentially corrupt (often because they sold cigarettes or alcohol).

Then there was a lady whose name I did not get but who spoke with equal and effervescent excitement about every topic from the weather to the fun we would have on our upcoming safari.

And the so-pleasant but comically incompetent waitress who managed to do everything wrong as she served us our dinner at one of the lodges on the Serengeti.

When I meet these people, I create a background for them, why are they where they are, why do they act the way they do, what life experiences have molded them. Perhaps the manager has been trying to fire this waitress for months, but she charms him so sweetly whenever he calls her to be sanctioned that he cannot bring himself to fire her.

It would have been easy for me to sit here at my computer and research the locations that we visited. I may even have been able to conjure up the emotions I experienced when I saw them in person. But to recreate these characters realistically, requires a much more practical approach.

How do you create your most realistic characters? Are they complete figments of your imagination or were they triggered by someone that crossed your path?


Charles Gramlich said...

I think I have a bad habit as a writer, and that is that I pay far far more attention and have more interest in the environments and the animals that I see than in the people. If there is anything compelling about my characters I think it must come from just channeling myself into them. I believe that I know myself pretty well and can use that as the basis for characters.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I get inspired by characters I meet. One of the things I dislike is when authors write about people from a culture with which I'm familiar and give them characters more reminiscent of the authors' native cultures. Or worst yet, they make them caricatures of the particular culture. While we can research cultures and actions on the internet, it's a bit harder to research how people think or would react without going to the places.

So I pretty much have centered most of my writing around places where I have lived or visited for extended periods of time. Spending a week at a high priced hotel is not the same as getting to know the people.

Many of my characters are also based on real live people or a combination of people that I've met. I think that makes them a little more authentic.

Liane Spicer said...

Many of my characters are inspired to varying degrees by people I know. I take what I need of their individual quirks while my imagination and the demands of the story do the rest.