Monday, December 7, 2009

Some of my best characters were friends...and may still be

  Q:  What boundaries do you trespass when you deliberately model a character after a person you know?

  A:  You trespass only the boundaries of your own reticence.  Any person you know is as fair a game as the use in a story of some trademark product.  "She blew her nose into a Kleenex (R).  "He sipped appreciatively at Martel VSOP Cognac (R).

  A1: Another relevant answer has you using the person from real life as an armature about which you wrap threads of intrigue and plot, taking the element of the real person who so intrigues you enough to inspire the theft in the first place,then enhancing, exaggerating, inventing circumstances to the point where the character achieves enough confidence and momentum to effect the development of the story.  You in fact brought a personality trait in from real life for that very reason--to behave beyond her- or himself, tipping the story in a particular emotional way, just as you suspected it might.  Bringing characters based on persons you know into a story is the equivalent of ppicking players in fantasy baseball or football leagues.

The Secrets of Casa Jocosa, the novel you are now seven chapters into, began with the thought that it would be a murder mystery.  You have at least one character (based on a real individual) some other characters might plausibly want to kill.  Murder mystery is a genre you picked from a spectrum of genera.  As you grew to know more about your novel, the plausibility of this particular character being murdered was challenged then undercut by that glorious thematic word in the title, "secrets."  Murder mystery would not recognize itself in its present guise.

  Q:  if an agent or editor suggested you turn this novel into a murder mystery (based on the character you could plausibly have another character kill off)what would you say?

  A:  You would first say, what the hell, why not, because there are themes, observations, and events in the novel you'd like to "get out into the world," which is to say have published for others to see and consider.  You might also change the names and locale and do one version this evolved way and another as a murder mystery.

As it stands now, you have this one character who is based on someone you know in real life, behaving in a simply despicable way, particularly to the character who is for all intents and purposes the spine of the story since she is hiring the protagonist to investigate a secret.  It may be that this despicable character will meet his cosmic justice head on by falling in love with the woman he is taking much advantage of.  The mere act of writing that previous sentence has helped you visualize a forthcoming scene between the two, in fact, because this despicable character is using his clout as manager of Casa Jocosa to shall we say take sexual advantage of the woman who has hired the protagonist to find out the answer to an important question.  What mischief will be caused if she now refuses him?  Will this refusal trigger his sense that he is now in love with her?  A giant helping of delicious mischief, you suspect.  

Now what is it about this other character you would introduce?  The individual on whom he is based is in your opinion less, much less than what he represents himself to be, his many accomplishments undercut by a disengenuousness that has been carefully patterned to seem sincere and noble.  Seeing what the first has introduced even as you made these brief observations, you are progressively farther away from the murder mystery of your original vision, the basic insight here being that the character you were setting up to murder is worth more to the story alive.


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