Where do characters come from? I’ve been asking myself that question for as long as I’ve been writing, but the complete answer still evades me. The process is as mysterious as the origins of life itself, maybe even more so. At least we know that life on earth evolved from some primordial soup. But what concoction serves as the foundation for those who inhabit our stories?
Seeds come to mind. Seeds give birth to plants and other living things. Humans start as a kind of seed. And so do our creations. As writers, we have experienced multiple settings and experiences. We’ve connected with many different types of people. All of those contacts can provide us with material that we sift through, plant in our fictions, and watch grow.
For me, often what helps me find my characters is their name, an essential way for me to discover who these individuals are. In my novels Fling! and Bone Songs, I couldn’t have uncovered the protagonists if I hadn’t first found the words to set them free. In Fling! 90-year-old Bubbles and her daughter 57-year old Feather come alive because these designations depict so accurately these women’s personalities. Bubbles actually lives in a kind of bubble, but she also has a feisty nature and an enduring curiosity that allows her to take adventures, even as an elderly woman. And Feather is a former hippie as well as an artist whose interest in the Goddess religion leads her to some intriguing adventures in Mexico, the place they visit together. Once I found their names, it was easy for me to follow them on their quest.
When I was writing Bone Songs, the name I first chose for the heroine, a larger-than-life woman (she’s over six foot tall and full-bodied) from Southern Mexico, was Lupita. I knew that the novel started with a tornado that hit the small Canadian town of Weed, Alberta. But I couldn’t get inside this female. She evaded me.
Around that time, my husband and I visited Mexico City. When we landed, a driver was waiting to take us to a resort we had booked into in Cuernavaca, a small town a two-hour drive away. At each curve we approached, I noticed the words “Curva Peligrosa” and recognized the Spanish for dangerous curve. That’s when it hit me that this was my character’s name. Once I found it, her personality blossomed immediately. I could hear the sound of her voice, her laugh. I knew what she looked like (she resembles Katy Jurado, the once-famous Mexican actress that appeared in High Noon) and the book took off.
That’s my story of how my invented worlds become populated. Have others had a similar experience?