Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Writing Characters from Life and Imagination

“I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.” 
- Tennessee Williams
Where do the characters from? Do they just appear in our thoughts and imaginations? Do we base them on people we know or are they entirely made up? For me, anything goes. I draw from personalities I know or those I simply conjure up. 

Most importantly, in the end each of my characters is a person. A living, breathing, flawed human being with their own story to tell. 

The dedication for Gallagher's Pride and the collection is to three men whose individual personalities greatly influenced the personalities of Ethan, Gabriel, and Ramsey. What I hadn't realized at the time was that I drew upon the good and bad, giving each of the cowboys traits from each of the men. It helped me to relate to the characters on a more personal level. 

(Image above right: When Ethan Gallagher glances at his family, this is the look I imagine. That smirk which borders on amusement with a dose of brotherly love. This is actor Greg Vaughn from Love's Christmas Journey, but my imagination sees the resemblance.)  

Alaina Claiborne is dedicated to my younger sister, April, but at the time I had also unconsciously based much of Alaina's personality on her. Though I began the first draft more than a decade ago, I didn't see the resemblance until I began the edits. My sister (Image below left) never lived in England or spoke with a British accent, and she certainly doesn't resemble Alaina physically, but some of the quirks, rash decision-making, and most especially the strength that Alaina exhibits, were all drawn from traits my sister possessed. When April passed away two summers ago, and before I began edits on Alaina Claiborne, I decided that I wasn't going to change Alaina's character, even if that meant leaving in some of more outrageous actions.  To me, my sister had become a part of Alaina.

Me with my younger sister. ©MK McClintock
When writing the new heroine for Blackwood Crossing, the first draft revealed a character who wasn't too likeable. It wasn't until I made some major and minor adjustments to the story and the character, that I realized Rhona exhibited many of my own traits. It was a somewhat uncomfortable realization because I saw so much of myself in her. I debated as to whether or not I should change her completely, or just soften her up a bit. I chose not to make things easier on myself and left the core of who she was alone.

The British Agents - all three adorable, strong, and charming men - were all conjured from my imagination. However, they each possess the best and worst traits I personally admire, desire, and dislike in a man. To meal, they are as real as the men who inspired the Gallaghers.

Every once in a while I'll see a picture in a magazine or a person simply walking past me, and that alone can spark ideas for characters. Once such instance was a picture of the most darling young girl I found while browsing images for a book cover, and immediately I saw her as a character in the upcoming Gallagher holiday story. Everything about that character came to life until I could "see" her sitting beside me playing with a new doll, her hair in braids, and showing me what her life had been like.

Ideas for stories come easier than the characters, but for me, a story doesn't exist until I can visualize the hero and/or heroine first. If often change a story to better suit the character rather than change the character to suit the story. I'm a character-driven reader. If I don't like them, it's all over for me. I don't expect readers to always agree with me, and I've even had a couple of readers mention what they like or dislike about a character. I love that. I love that a character made an impression - whether it's love or hate.  

These are my people and my friends and enemies. Just as surely as I care about and admire those in my real life, I care about these men and women who have become a part of my world. When I move onto the next story, each one of them is still with me. 


  1. I love your description of how you choose (or they choose you) your characters and how they come alive. They were "real" to me when I read, and I enjoyed following them. Your sister was a beautiful person, as you are. Revealing her through a fictional character is a wonderful way to keep her with you.

    1. Thank you, Verna. When I go back and read Alaina's character, it is fun to see so much of my sister in there. She was beautiful.