Many people who have read my novels have commented on my characters. They enjoy how real they are. The character’s depth and realism attract them. Several people have asked me where I get my characters and how I developed them.
When I started writing my first novel I had a problem with my characters. I couldn’t keep them straight in my head. I wrote out detailed descriptions of each one and all that did was cause me to spend far too much time looking up each one. Then one day it dawned on me and I rewrote all my characters.
I’m retired after thirty years with the Chicago Police Department. In that time, I worked with thousands of police officers. They were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. Some were good and some, downright evil. Several were cowardly but most were uncommonly brave. There were some very cheap and miserly coppers and some who would give you the shirt off their back. Some were too lazy to accomplish much and others wouldn’t sit still for two minutes. One thing they all had in common was they all were true characters. Most larger than life in an occupation that can mean life or death for many.
Responding to a shots fired call or a domestic disturbance numerous times a day every day for years does something to a person. Hauling dead bodies in the back of a police paddy wagon does something to one’s sense of humor. It makes them all larger than life.
Larger than life is what you need in a novel. A stage actress wears makeup louder and heavier than she ever would on the street. The glare of the stage lights would wash out her face if she didn’t. The same goes for a character in a novel. The character’s personality would wash out if it weren’t larger than life.
I draw my characters from the people I know. It makes continuity easier. The character doesn’t grow four inches in five chapters by accident. His hair and eyes don’t change color and more importantly, his quirks and traits remain constant throughout the work. All I change are the names and ding them up a little.
Perhaps if I came from another field I wouldn’t be able to do this. Then again it might apply to plumbers and doctors too. Everyone knows someone who people say “He is a real character.”