Life is stranger than fiction and provides a whole array of intrigue and fodder for the inventive writer. You simply have to look around you and to bear witness to the complexities of life. Love, crime, suspicion, intrigue, death, blackmail and heartbreak. It’s all there and if you can tap into this real-life resource, it makes life a lot easier of course. But when you write about something that is or was important to you, it can add a greater dimension to the content too.
For example, recently I was asked to ghost write a romantic fiction novel for a client. My brief was to create powerful, dramatic scenes laced with erotica and to ensure that it was character based, with the characters both believable and compelling. My client also wanted there to be a passionate affair throughout and some intrigue. Now, I enjoy creating characters and usually spend a lot of time creating character profiles and writing detailed timelines. However, for this project, time was of the essence so, instead, I decided to use specific elements of people I knew well so I could add a greater depth of character to my antagonist.
I set the story in Scotland and then France, two places that I know very well and then started to consider my characters. Luckily the lead female became instantly real to me; it took very little time to conjure up her family background, her experiences –which were less than worldly, and to imagine her in a scenario with a passionate man from a very different culture. This would immediately add conflict and tension to the plot. I then began the process of creating the character who would be her husband and began plotting his demise romantically.
My main problem was that I had to gradually start turning her away from the husband she loved, creating believable tension and suspicion so that she would find herself unhappy and vulnerable to attention from any other man. With limited time and word count, my answer was to place her in a situation where her husband became almost a stranger to her. Nothing shakes the foundation of a relationship than the realisation that the person you love deeply is actually very different. I wrote the story with each chapter revealing more information about her husband, stripping away the loving facade showing a very different and almost sinister persona hidden underneath.
I fully endorse using characteristics from real life people in the same way that you use your experiences writing about places you have visited or events that you have become embroiled within. Why not make use of certain mannerisms of those people who are in your life? Capture the shy smile from the neighbour across the road, the flirty woman who cannot resist attention from her male colleagues, or the furtive glances from the shy, introverted man who rarely interacts with others. Think about an endearing quality of your friends and gradually add certain aspects to create a whole new persona albeit a fictional one. You are not copying the whole person; you are taking vital elements that can build up the layers of a new character who will eventually become larger than life.
Life is stranger than fiction and when you start looking at the characteristics of those around you, you can tap into this ready-made material and utilise aspects that will add believable qualities and that will hook the reader in the process.
“Image courtesy of [marin] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.