My favorite character from one of my books is a wise-cracking best friend named Roxanne. The protagonist starts the book as a strait-laced rule follower. She changes on her journey through the story and by the end she’s strong, rebellious and unafraid. But she doesn’t start that way.
This protagonist character was hard for me to write in the early pages, before she changes. And suddenly Roxanne just sort of appeared. She’s a snarky rule breaker and I later realized she needed to be there, because she became a moral guide for my main character who began to ask, “What would Roxanne do?” in difficult situations.
If I look back at the books I’ve loved, the main characters are usually a lot like Roxanne, in different ways. Elizabeth Bennet from my beloved Pride and Prejudice is witty, independent and rebellious too, in her refusal to marry Mr. Collins even though she has no other prospects. Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, another one of my favorites, is sometimes downright evil, but she’s also brave and smart.
Roxanne isn’t based on anyone I know. None of my characters are based on real people. I know many writers do use templates from the real world when they create characters and I wish I did this too, because it sounds like a more convincing and efficient way to write a book, legal issues aside. But if there’s a difficult, inefficient way to write, that seems to be the method I choose every time.
Do I love and create these characters because they’re like me? I hope I’m not amoral like Becky Sharpe, and I’ll never be as witty as Elizabeth Bennet, but it is true that if someone orders me to do something, I do the opposite, on principle. I also have an issue with authority figures and speed limit signs. Coincidence? Maybe.
I read a hilarious book on vacation this summer called Class Mom by Laurie Gelman, and I’m still thinking about the characters. And that’s my goal when I sit down to write, to create sticky characters the reader carries inside their head and hopefully in their heart too, long after they finish the book.