Bits and Pieces

The main character in my novel has a dog. He’s a large, fluffy, white mutt, with brown spots, and he’s modeled in part upon one that an ex-boyfriend of mine used to own, plus bits and pieces of other dogs I have known over the years. This boyfriend’s dog, Ishi, named after the last Native American of a California tribe, was huge. He loved to hike and would run along with us when we went mountain biking. I can’t remember if he liked to swim and fetch, but I have always wanted a fetching, swimming canine.

Unfortunately, my corgis don’t do either. However, I do find them to be great comfort. When I lived alone, I especially valued my corgi as a constant companion, someone who always understood when I got upset, who listened when I tried to sort out my problems, and who entertained and loved me. It seems only natural, then, that my protagonist, who has lived by herself for a many years, and loves to hike and cross-country ski, would also own a dog, so I gave her this modification of Ishi to keep her company and soothe her grief.

I created my main character in a similar way. She has some things in common with me. She talks to her dog. She loves the outdoors. She is a massage therapist who wants to be something else. She is skeptical of the paranormal. Is that where the similarity ends? In forming her, or in her forming herself, all of the people I have ever watched or known added their pieces. Her body build came from a large, strong therapist I used to work with. Her sense of design came from one friend, but her neatness came from another (and, believe me, I have little sense of style, and I am not OCD!).

Her late husband is modeled, in turn, on a couple of physicists I knew years ago, melded with a man I briefly dated, and a female friend of mine who refused to see a doctor until her cancer had spread way too far to be treated. Thus, each character has a dash of those I have known, blended with dashes of imagination and dashes of someone I once saw in a coffee shop, all melded together into what I hope are realistic-seeming human beings who don’t resemble anyone in particular.

Is this how all fiction writers create their characters, unless they are modeling them on themselves or on a historical figure? Certainly, when I have taken a workshop or read a book about writing fiction, we are urged to observe those around us, take notes, and, thus to be voyeurs.

Here’s a wonderful essay by Sarah Toole Miller on a similar topic.

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