Friday, January 15, 2010

Character Origins – where do they come from?

Some authors base their characters on people they know. In general this method (so far) has not been my habit. I do get requests from acquaintances saying (usually jokingly) “Put me in your book!” with their reasons why this is a good idea. Not gonna happen. In general my characters tend to evolve over time, taking on a life of their own as I sit down and write about them.

Here is how a couple of my characters for BLACKHEART came into being:


Blackheart was born one day in the late 1990s as I was driving fast on a very crowded Interstate 35W in Minneapolis. I imagined (that’s what us writer-types do, don’tcha know) a horrible car wreck occurring complete with explosions and twisted metal that killed all involved—except for one dark, scarred man who climbed from the wreckage unscathed. I wanted to know—why, how, who was this dark figure that could walk from a fiery wreck untouched save for another series of scars added to his body? Thus Blackheart was born, the dark antihero who kept coming back time and time again in scene after scene as I wrote—whether I asked him to show up or not, who eventually became the engine that drives my book.

Clayton Jaeger, P.I.

I saw a documentary about an old surfer dude who went down to the California coast every morning and surfed to start his day. It made me think of a man, not an old surfer dude, but a sick, middle-aged private investigator, who had nothing left to live for—dying of cancer, twenty-something daughter recently killed, wife ready to leave him—who decides to go for one last surf and never come back. Instead of drowning he is saved by an angel—who gives him this decree, “Stop Blackheart.”

It is the meeting of these two stories that sets my book in motion.


At lunch with a friend discussing my book’s progress recently I was happy when she said, “Your book happens in Minnesota? Cool. I am so sick of every book I read and every movie I watch taking place in New York.” I couldn’t agree more. Setting my book in Minnesota makes perfect sense to me. It’s my primary example of “write what you know.” Having lived here for approximately 4 decades I’d like to believe I’ve noticed a thing or two about this state. For instance, it snows. In Blackheart there is blizzard that at times is only a backdrop for the story and at other times is one of the enemies my characters struggle against. The biggest challenge for me here is finding different ways to describe snow throughout the book. I understand the Inuit had 100 words for snow. My book contains at least 102. (

Noel August

Fifteen-year-old Noel August travels with Blackheart and leads him to what he believes is the key to his immortal curse. She is a beautiful and troubled girl—her family murdered, speaking with guardian angels that only she can see and hear. I’m not exactly sure where Noel came from—but I personally know a number of people who claim to have seen angels—and at least one who claims to have conversed with them. To me the concept of seeing and hearing spiritual beings is fascinating—and Noel adds a wonderful counterbalance (I hope) to Blackheart’s darker side.


As the member of the Scribblerati who wrote the last blog entry for 2009 and now is writing the first blog entry for 2010 I thought it appropriate I at least comment on New Year’s Resolutions. In 2009 I had hoped to complete the third draft of my book—which I did on New Year’s Eve day. It made me happy.

However, that being said I still have much work to do on BLACKHEART before I try to put my book in front of agents and editors—my goal for sometime in 2010. I’m hoping revision 4 (and maybe even 5) goes more quickly. There is a writing conference I have my eye on this spring that claims to have “writer/agent speed dating" on the agenda—and I hope to be in that dating pool. Other than that I also just hope to write as much as possible and maybe even get a good start on book number 2.

Happy New Year—and for you writer/author types—happy writing.


Shawn Enderlin said...

I don't know where the heck my characters come from. They just pop into existence while I'm writing, which is probably why I have too damn many of them!

As for resolutions, I don't really make them, but I'm shooting to finish this draft of To Kill the Goddess before the end of 2010.

Jon said...

My characters are both made up and gleaned from people I know, some more than others.

I think the situation also plays a large part in who is where doing what, you know?

Some people start with character first and then ask what that person is doing and start building a story from there, I can't do that. I have to start with a situation and then plug a couple of people into it and let them move around. Alot of times, their reactions help me to determine who they are as a character.

As for Resolutions, long ago I made the resolution never to make another resolution and I'm happy to say that I have stuck with it. You know what the secret is?

Will power.

I would have made one hell of a Green Lantern.

Anyway, as far goals go, I am planning on finishing the last cuts on Gunslingers very soon. I'm over halfway done now. Hopefully I can do it before there are anymore requests (also: Hopefully there ARE more requests...). Then I will set that aside and really start to dig into Book 2.

Brenda said...

I have always loved the way your mind works, and after 21 years, I've come to appreciate how truly creative and unique it is. The best I can do while driving down 35W is to not think about the list in my head of things to do or notice a new corporate headquarters, but rather to see a deer bounding in the field off in the distance or a hawk flying overhead.

Am ever interested in the final draft of the book!

Your biggest fan ;)

Keith Kulas said...

I can't wait to read your final draft of "Blackheart" and then see it unleashed on the public!