Characters in Fiction: Where do they come from? Guest blog by US author Susan Tepper + Prize Giveaway
Characters can come from anywhere. They can be earthlings or moon people, half-man half-beast, they can be folks the writer knows well, or slightly, or perhaps someone glimpsed briefly on a crowded subway platform never to be seen again.
Characters can also come out of pure imagination, as a compilation of people and events that create a fire in the writer’s mind, something that can’t be put out with a hose or by beating it down with a rug. It can be a seed that irritates the writer’s brain, a type of fantasy, much like the fantasy of sand that irritates the oyster to form a pearl. Then over time this seed (pearl) connects to an egg that makes an embryo into a fully formed character. A birth!
But in keeping with nature, a moment, please remember that all parents do not love all their offspring. Some may be fabulous children while others are mean, miserable and generally bothersome brats. For me, as well as many other writers, it’s the bothersome ones that come begging to be born. They want to play with us on the page, inhabit our dreams, become alive, immortal — that dark seamy side of humanity brought into the light by means of a story or book. Most memorable characters in great literature are quirky at the very least, and evil, corrupt, narcissistic monsters at their worst. They act out all the stuff that’s repressed by civilized society. Which makes them such fun to write! Nabokov gave us creepy Humbert Humbert in his novel “Lolita.” Philip Roth created the sex-crazed Portnoy in “Portnoy’s Complaint.” For Salinger, it was a young, quirky Holden Caulfield who captured our hearts and minds in “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Of course lots of women authors have written incredibly outrageous characters, too, but at the moment these three come to mind. The list of memorable literary characters is long. And that is due to the courage of writers who let down their hair, don’t give a damn, let these characters out of the box, allow them to run wild and free on the page, so that readers may experience new and provocative realities. The life of the mind — not to be taken lightly. So, I say to all you writers out there — make characters that cry out to you, be true to your vision, and don’t worry about what others may be doing. Courage! (now say it the French way).
Susan Tepper is the author of the fiction collection Deer & Other Stories (Wilderness House Press, 2009) and the poetry chapbook Blue Edge. Over 100 of her stories and poems have been published in journals and anthologies worldwide. Susan has received five nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review and hosts the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC.
* We have one SIGNED copy of Susan's "Deer and Other Stories" (Wilderness House Press) to give away. Simply leave a comment below by Friday, February 26 and we will pick one winner. The winner will be announced on Sunday, so tune in then to Strictly Writing.