Comments on Sunday’s post about how cool my husband is got me thinking… do you use people you know as characters in books? Steve is a very talented individual. He’s actually quite the Renaissance man… if Renaissance men dressed in tie-dye and Chacos. He’s very multi-faceted with a lot of likes, dislikes, and internal characteristics. Now, obviously he’s my ideal guy, so quite possibly all the love interests in my books have some part of him in them. But one, Tristan in my Beatles book (Her Ticket to Ride), I tried consciously to make a lot like him. In fact, some of the conversations he has with Leena are exact conversations we’ve had about John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The only problem is, I lost the feel for Tristan because I made him too much like Steve. What I think happened has a lot to do with translating real people to paper. Though we want dimensional characters, we don’t want them to come across as contradictory, with too many personalities. Often characters that come across as contradictory seem unable to stay IN character and pull us as readers away from them. There is also the problem of having only so many pages available to show their personalities in your book. To make my point on where I went wrong, I interviewed Steve. Here are his answers to a simple character worksheet:
ME: What’s your profession?
STEVE: I am a product specialist for a medical device company. It's kind of like a project manager, but heavy on the clinical side. Right now I am working on research and development for some therapies to treat lower limb peripheral artery disease.
ME: What did you study in school?
STEVE: I studied chemical engineering as an undergrad. I studied biomedical engineering for my doctorate, but it was in the chemical engineering department, so my degree says chemical engineering.
ME: What are some of your hobbies?
STEVE: I have way too many hobbies. I'll try to list some of them in no particular order. Playing guitar, cooking, traveling, camping, hiking, backpacking, biking, running, hunting, fishing, reading, woodworking, and gardening. I know there are a lot more than these, but I can't think of any this close to my bed time.
ME: Describe your ideal friend and enemy.
When I read the question I told Jackee that I am like Red Forman from That 70's Show, "Kitty, I don't like people." If I have to choose an ideal friend it would be someone that can make me laugh. My ideal enemy, simply put, is someone I would have no problem killing with my bare hands.
ME: What is your idea of a fun day?
STEVE: Anything other than going to work (though I do like my job). The day would involve spending time with the family, working in the yard, going to a good restaurant, doing any one of my hobbies (see above), etc. Take your pick.
ME: What are your biggest pet peeves?
STEVE: I told Jackee that I don't have any pet peeves, but she didn't believe me. My biggest pet peeve is the word like, I can't stand it when people say like every other word. Personally I think it makes some one sound really dumb when they don't use the word correctly. For example, someone says, "I like went to the store". Well, did you "like" go to the store or did you go to the store? The other pet peeve would be the use or misuse of the word your and you're and there, their, and they're. It really gets on my nerves when people who have graduated college can't use them correctly.
ME: What are some of your favorite books?
STEVE: My favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo. The story is great and the character development is incredible. Sadly, I don't think the book would sell today, people don't have the patience or attention span to read a book that long. Others include: Les Miserables, Dracula (the original by Bram Stoker, not those vampire atrocities people read today), The Jungle, Hunger Games (working on Mockingjay right now), Citizen Soldiers, The Demon in the Freezer, and The Terror. There are probably a lot more, but those are the ones that come to mind.
ME: What were some of your favorite books as a kid?
STEVE: I didn't really read many books as a kid, I spent more time outside. I loved Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attack. I enjoyed the book Hatchet as a kid too.
ME: Favorite music?
STEVE: All kinds of music. My favorite genre would have to be late '60s San Francisco psychedelic. Here's a list of some of the musicians/groups I like to listen to, in no particular order. The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, The Beatles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Phish, The Velvet Underground, Cream, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, George Harrison, Mozart, Berlioz, U2, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Wilco, Tea Leaf Green, Jerry Garcia Band, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. And that's just that start of a very long list. I like music.
ME: What do you think is the most contradictory thing about you?
STEVE: I think that I am one big contradiction. The one thing that comes to mind is that I am sort of a hippie, yet enjoy hunting and fishing.
From his answers you can see that he is all over the place. Many people are! Which is why I think it is very hard (if not impossible) to take a single person and put them on paper as they are. I believe certain characteristics of people we meet and know aid us in creating real and rounded characters in books, but obviously I couldn’t put a real person into a fictional story the one time I tried. What do you all think? Am I right? Or have you tried to take a person and made them the same on paper as they are in real life, whether memoir or fiction? I’m curious to know!
P.S. Sorry there’s no nature post today. I’ll get one up next Wednesday. If you have a burning question about plants or animals between now and then, feel free to ask it.