When writers are asked about the characters they write about most will say that their creations are mainly fictional with a nod to people they meet, whether it’s a nervous tic of an old teacher they’ve added to their protagonist or the fiery temper of a not so popular work colleague. This makes absolute sense; we tend to write about the things we know and that goes for the people around us too.
So, how does this translate into forming the main character’s background? Do writers draw from their own experience of family set ups, in whatever form they take? I suppose in a way they must, as it’s that very dynamic that forms us. Isn’t it?
I find when I write about my characters’ families I’m compelled to reign in my personal experience for fear the reader would say my creations are too fanciful, as the list of characters in my family unit would read like a Jilly Cooper novel. And that’s just the family members I know about!
The number of skeletons in my family’s closet suggest we should upgrade to a double wide, walk-in wardrobe. Long Lost family hosts Davina and Nick would run for the hills if they took a look at the carnage my folk have left in their wake, yet it’s something that’s been on my mind since my father passed away in June. I am attempting to put a family tree together, but it’ll require the cooperation of many distant family relatives – and the rekindling of long ago memories which out of loyalty have thus far been kept silent. In a nutshell I have siblings that I’m not supposed to know about. But I do, and have done for years. So where do I go with that? It’s no surprise I started writing, I suppose!
Over the last few weeks I’ve been looking at the characters I’ve created in my novels and there are dynamics in play I hadn’t thought about consciously. In Fragile Cord, the story revolves around the murder suicide of a young woman and her son, uncovering a secret she was unable to share even with her husband. Yet it takes two to keep a secret: one with something to hide and the other, unwilling to rock the boat.
In Truth Lies waiting, the main character Davy Johnson thinks he knows all there is to know about his family. As far as he’s concerned life would be good if the bent cop following him around would just leave him alone. When an incident happens that makes his life go into freefall he has to dig deep into his family history to find the cause. The story explores a fractured father/son relationship and uncovers secrets that were kept for (possibly) the right reasons.
For me my lovely Dad could do no wrong, I was the apple of his eye, yet a brother was relegated for no reason we can fathom. Amidst this sorrow the good news is that I was reunited with my wonderful older brother at Dad’s funeral and we are determined to make up for our thirty years apart – which is the closest I think we’ll get to a fairy-tale ending. Yet the sadness and frustration of unanswered questions will continue to plague my characters for some time I think.