Chapter 4-4 – Creating Characters

Most people that I know start their stories with a character. The other students in my class were no different but from what they said in our class discussions, many of them based their characters on people they knew. I tried not to write autobiographically. Anybody I’d seen on the street would do as a starting point if I could picture them in my mind. It was harder to create characters from scratch and “act” out what my characters might do based on their own personalities and motivations but I think they were a lot more interesting.

Some talked about using their relatives as models for their characters. Maybe your family would be happy to be recognized in one of your books. but I didn’t think my family was ready for that kind of exposure and some of them had actually warned me about using them in my stories. They’ve never had anything to worry about.

The trick was how to make those made-up characters appear real to the reader. Using how I thought I would feel if I was in their situation seemed to be a good start.  The few times I tried to use an actual person or write a story about something that actually happened, the story ended up pretty flat, or it wasn’t believable at all.

That’s why I made a point of “constructing” my stories and characters to match my intent for a particular story. I was surprised by how many people in my Fiction Techniques used their own experiences or people they knew in our exercises. Coming up with a story that I loved and wanted to publish that featured someone from my family would have been a nasty dilemma and I would never have risked upsetting my family.

You could say that I wasn’t totally committed to my art and that if I was, writing about my family wouldn’t matter. Still, we were supposed to be writing fiction and memoirs were for a different class.

A long time ago, I did pass through that catharsis stage of my fiction writing when I wrote stories about being a woman in a male-dominated office and raising children when it wasn’t an accepted thing to do. Maybe every fiction writer goes through that kind of process before they move on creatively.  Our teacher didn’t express an opinion one way or another about using real people in our stories. She let us hash it out and generally, I think most of us agreed by the end of that class that using fictional characters was better than using real people. I decided that I would experiment with different types of characters when I wrote stories for my workshops.


About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
This entry was posted in Graduate Writing Programs, Johns Hopkins University, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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