Someone recently asked me, having just finished reading Turn of the Tide, if Kate (the wife of my main character) was me? I can honestly say that thought had never occurred to me, but it did start me thinking about where our characters come from.
Of course in my case most of the characters in Turn of the Tide, apart from the main family, were historical, so writing them poses particular problems.
1) I needed to find out how much information exists about them, in terms of physical appearance and how they behaved obviously, but, more importantly, any evidence also as to how they thought – what motivated them, their beliefs, loyalties and so on.
2) Relationships and location(s) are also important – no William Wallace and Isabella of France anachronisms for me, and whether there is concrete evidence or not, it should be at least possible for them to be where I place them at any given time.
Having researched them, I needed both to be true to what was known and to ensure that as I developed them as characters their actions remained at least plausible when examined in the light of known facts. Often it’s the less well known characters who provide most scope for development and are therefore most fun to write.
Crucially I need to ‘come clean’ (in an author’s note) where I modified known facts in the interests of the story – changes are sometimes necessary – this is the start of a series of novels, not history books.
The fictional characters should be easier to write, after all, I can make them be and do whatever I like? Well, yes, and no. It begins that way, but once a character is established they too need to act ‘in character’ unless there’s a very good reason for them not to. Where do they come from? I guess the best description is that it’s a little like choosing sweets from a pick and mix stall – individual traits, whether physical or of personality – are drawn from my experience of everyone I’ve ever known and mixed up to form new composite characters that (hopefully) aren’t sufficiently like any one person to be recognisable. And in answer to the original question – Is Kate me? I don’t think so, but perhaps in some ways she is a person I’d like to be.