I’m Every Woman

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Have you ever stopped to think how much of your characters you draw from your own personality and experience?

We’ve been told to write what we know, and to a certain extent, that helps us put down our stories. We also draw on other people’s experiences, as well as situations we hear about in the news or read in the newspaper. Some writers also draw from historical material and put their own spin on things.

With the aim of making each story unique, writers are called to turn their brains inside out to come up with fresh characters and uncommon scenarios. It takes resourcefulness to be able to do this story after story and character after character.

Something that’s occurred to me over time is that I use different aspects of my own character and that of other people to formulate unique women and men. I’ll show you what I mean below. The women I’ll mention have their own story, however, my own character traits to form dominant part of their personality. Then came the peculiarities that make up my associates, friends and relatives. This is my recipe for creating an appealing woman each time, depending on the story I am telling.

On to the women:

Janine appears in Contraband and is the love interest of the main character Paul. She’s independent and has high standards, so she has difficulty dealing with Paul’s second occupation. He’s a farmer, but he also sells marijuana. Janine comes across as soft and very feminine. She stands by Paul when he’s shot, however, she refuses to have a relationship with him once she discovers that he’s doing something illegal. Even when she’s pregnant and Paul wants them to be together, she sends him on his way despite the fact that she considers him to be the most exciting of men.

Her stance wins Paul’s admiration, respect and love. Yours truly has standards too, so of course I was cheering for Janine when she was prepared to go it alone with her twins-in-the-making, even as her hormones were singing a different song.

Sherryn is the heroine in Dissolution. She discovers that her husband has a five-year-old boy outside of their marriage. Unforgiving does not begin to describe or scratch the surface of this woman. Her husband and their relationship go to hell and back before she makes a decision about whether to divorce him or not. One of my beta readers said she had no idea whether the marriage would have survived, based on Sherryn’s treatment of Reece. Every time she seemed about to forgive, the deep-seated reluctance to forgive stifled her good intentions.

Conversely, Sherryn is a peach to her friends and an excellent mother to her children. She was quite a complicated character that needed to do some self-searching to resolve her sometimes irrational and unpredictable behavior. All I’ll say here is that I have had issues with forgiveness and healing.

Camille is the snootiest character I’ve written. She wouldn’t describe herself as snooty, nor would her close friends, but at the same time she recognizes that she has higher standards than they. To Quinn, the man who eventually catches her eye, she at first seems to be someone who thinks too much of herself and too little of others—him in particular. She’s also focused, family oriented and dependable, which makes her the problem-sorter-outer for everybody around her.

She has a hard time relaxing and sometimes envies her friends their ability to do exactly what they want and enjoy themselves without being self-conscious or having fears of looking ridiculous. In this respect, she reminds me of myself. Years ago, a friend of mine chastised me for being unable to relax and told me to stop being such a tight-ass. I’ve never forgotten his advice, but at the same time, I’ve never quite gotten the hang of just relaxing and being. Even when I’m with friends, if I’m not doing something I deem constructive, I start feeling guilty about being idle.

Anya & Celeste are sisters and boy, are these women snarky. Anya tends to be bristly because she’s hurting from an abusive relationship and from painful verbal run-ins with her sister, Celeste, who features in her story. Celeste keeps people at a distance just in case she disappoints not only them, but herself through her perceived inadequacies.

It’s a while before both women stop running from their partners. You can imagine that the men who give these women the time of day would have to be special characters themselves and yet, both males are unalike in nature. (More to come on these men in another post.)

Anya eventually softens when she comes up against a solid and patient man. Of course, she doesn’t fall over herself to get with the guy, but remains in character even as she takes the plunge into a new relationship.

Celeste is the crabbiest character I’ve written to date. It’s sort of easy not to like her at first encounter and yet, she’s kinda like a succulent, prickly on the outside and soft on the inside. After her novel was complete, I had to go back and sprinkle tidbits to explain why she felt she needed to be tough. This, in an effort to make her more appealing to readers. At the end, I was satisfied with how she turned out based on comments from the people who critiqued her novel. As to similarities with the writer, let’s just say I’ve learned not to say the first thing that comes to my lips. I’ve also learned to control my body language – to some degree.

Justine is the heroine who is closest to my heart. Her story was the most difficult for me to write. She gets caught up in an affair, and that goes against everything she believes in and pulls her in several different directions. She found it hard to make a decision whether to stay in her sterile marriage or reach for happiness with her lover because of the children involved and the devastation that would visit both families.

Circumstances force her to make a huge sacrifice, but she emerges from her struggle with the knowledge that she can survive despite feeling that life dealt her the cruelest of blows. Stoicism is part of who I am. Despite the challenges, whenever I’m knocked down, I tend to wallow a bit, but I keep things to myself. At some point, I do a little dusting off, get myself in gear and start moving again.

Now that we’ve explored my quirky band of characters, d’you see how you work bits of your personality into your main players?


  1. Great post! I also think of other people I know and try to project a bit of their voice into the characters as well.

  2. Thanks for stopping in, Elizabeth. Good strategy, that.

  3. After this post, I feel like I know you a little better, since you've revealed which parts of yourself seeded your charcters. :)

    You're so right, I think, about writers working a bit of themselves into their charcters. When I have an MC that starts to think or act too much like me, I give them a trait totally opposite mine, to keep them real in the fiction world. :) Don't know where my insane ones come from :)

  4. Tina,

    I didn't think about how much of myself I was laying out in the open when I wrote this, but hey, confession is good for the soul! :D

    I'll remember that tip about coming up with characteristics that are totally opposite to mine. Thanks for sharing that!

  5. These characters are great! I imagine a little bit of every writer ends up in her characters.

  6. Thanks for stopping by Cynthia. Just wondered what it would be like if we lost a bit of ourselves each time we put a tidbit in a character. :)

  7. Wonderful post! I think that most of my characters are based on myself or people I know. Lots of them are relatives or friends combined with other relatives or friends... I'm working on a series of early chapter books that are based on my husband and I when we were kids...of course they are a bit exaggerated.

  8. Sharon,

    I guess the advice write what you know serves its purpose. Using the 'tools' that we have work
    well to develop interesting characters. Good luck with that project.

  9. I think this is true. Some of my characters burst to life fully formed, and some inevitably have bits of me - or people I know - in them. That's how you make them feel real to you and your readers, by drawing on real things. Great post!

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sangu. I like characters who come to life fully rounded and vibrant, but those are the ones who tend to be the most difficult to work with. They usually have a mind of their own!

  11. I think that helps make a genuine character. Because you know firsthand the motivations and desires behind the particular trait. I’ve probably done this without even realizing it. Now, I’m going to have to think over my characters.

  12. Holly, thanks for dropping by. I agree that this might be the way many writers develop characters. Thing is, we don't stop to think consciously about it.

  13. I think there's always some of me in all of my female characters and some of many of the men/boys that I've know in the male ones. The short story I wrote (that didn't win anything) was totally based on me and an ex, but in a different situation.

  14. Hi, Cass,
    I guess we all write what we know to a certain extent!

  15. Just dropping in to return the favor-and stopped to smell the roses (and read the posts)!

    I always tell people that if you've ever worked, lived, or even said hello to me in the grocery store, you'll end up in a story. Cleverly disguised, of course.

    Remember, you can get more chances to win if you spread the word to your followers!

  16. I try not to base my characters on myself but it inevitably ends up happening. It's a good thing we are all so multifaceted ;)

  17. I think bringing in a part of ourselves into characters make them more real. When you have experienced something or acted the same way you know exactly how a situation feels.

  18. @Cathy - Thanks! I'll spread the word.

    @Lynda - I've given up on trying to make my characters behave and be their own people. Inevitably, something of me rubs off on them.

    Janel - Thanks for stopping by. You're right, our experiences do help to make our characters that much more real.

  19. Wonderful post, Joy! In my first ms (totally languishing on my computer) there was a lot of me in the characters as well as people I knew. The current ms has more idealized notions of historical figures or simply people who act in a way I view as heroic (while still being human). It's fun to analyze where/how we become inspired to write characters the way we do.

    Thanks for sharing so much about your characters and stories, Joy.

  20. With a combination of self, associates and our imagination, it's no wonder fiction writers come up with such colourful characters.


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