Monday, June 29, 2009

Exorcising Demons

Grab the Holy Water, people, because the demons abound! No, I'm not writing a paranormal literary fiction novel with a twist of chick lit and a touch of romance that takes place in an alternate reality on another world! Whew! Try saying that three times fast. I'm talking about the demons in our real life - evil stepsisters, wicked co-workers, friends that have betrayed us time and again, the clerk at the store that laughed at you when you asked if they had the dress in a size 3, the AC repairman that just couldn't make it to your house on the hottest freaking day of the year to fix the dying AC, etc - that somehow make it into our writing as totally unredeemable characters that often die a violent death!

Now, when I think of totally unredeemable characters, I always think of Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series. J. K. Rowling wrote that character so well, that there is no way to like that character. She is unredeemable. She is hateable. I absolutely despise that character.

So, who was the inspiration for Dolores Umbridge? Was there a real person cleverly wrapped in fiction? Did someone make such an impact on J. K. Rowling's life, and not in a good way, that she suddenly came to life in the pages of a book? Have you done the same thing?

I repeat: have you done the same thing? How many of your less than likable characters are fashioned after people in your life that you don't like? Come on, now, honesty here, people. I mean, isn't it fun to create a character based on someone you don't like and then have horrible things happen to them? Isn't it fun to give the girl from high school who had perfect hair and complexion zits and bad hair days in your YA novel . . . and give her the same name so that all your friends absolutely know who you're writing about? Isn't it cathartic?

Have I done the same with people who have made my life miserable at some point? Yes and no! In my great Epic Fantasy novel that is languishing in boxes in my closet, there is a truly evil character that was inspired by the witch next door neighbor when I was growing up. She was all blonde and beautiful, friend to your face and enemy to your back. She was one of those people that no one would suspect of being so . . . bitchy! Dang, and I thought I exorcised those demons long ago. Seriously though, she did make it into a manuscript at some point. It felt good to have horrible things happen to this seemingly perfect person - pretty on the outside and dark on the inside!

Now, in recent manuscripts, I haven't done this. In recent manuscripts, I haven't had the need. Still, the world is full of inspiration for truly unredeemable characters to which horrible things might happen within the pages of a novel. How often do you use these inspiring people when creating despicable characters in your novels? How often do you weave fiction around real people you don't like and insert them in your novels? Do you exorcise the demons of the past by having horrible things happen to these characters?



Robyn said...

Scott, great post. My new WIP has a really nasty antag and I plan on modeling him after a few people in my life that have stabbed me in my back. I still see these folks from time to time, so the memories are fresh if you know what I mean. :)

It's a great release too. AHH, the writers life can be quite fun. :)

Davin Malasarn said...

I think almost all of my characters are based on real people, so, yes, I write about unlikable people I encounter all the time. It's very cathartic for me!

PJ Hoover said...

I use basic frames of people I know to model characters after, but rarely when I do bad things to them do I associate them with people from the past. Maybe I should. it probably makes them and the experiences more real.

Rebecca Knight said...

Hey, who told you about my store clerk experience?? ;)

Maybe this makes me a sicko, but I tend to base my protagonists both on who I want to be (Awesome Brave Hero) and the parts of me I'm ashamed of (Cowardly Non-Hero), and then base my antagonists off who I would be if I could be just as bitchy and evil as I'd secretly like to be, but can't imagine ever doing.

My antagonists are based on those deep, dark parts of me that think fire is pretty and want to choke the store clerk with that size 3 dress.

So, to answer your question, I guess I base them off the nastiness within my candy-coated shell? Does anyone else do that?

Great post!

Scott said...

Robyn - there is truly a feeling of release when bad characters are modeled after bad people I know. I just call it 'therapy' and is much cheaper!

Davin - sometimes my characters have a basis in somebody I know, and other times they just sort of emerge from the chaos of my mind.

PJ - it's rare in my current writing to have really horrible people where bad things happen to them. Mainly it was in the days of writing fantasy that I would craft the nasty characters after people who did me 'wrong'!! : )

Rebecca - didn't Elana mention that I'm psychic?? Kidding! Maybe! I do the same thing with my characters. In my current PIQ (project in query) each of the characters had parts of me and did things that I wished I had done, and all that jazz. Isn't writing fun?

Glynis said...

Oh lol, you can read my mind. I have a slimeball of a character who I modelled on my old neighbour in the UK!!