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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Real People

I like the writing advice that recommends having a real person in your view when creating a fictional one. Often I've pictured someone who might look like a character I'm fleshing out. Height, hair color, shape of his nose.Yes, I change the name, but often need the picture.

If I'm having a hard time imagining my character doing things that seem extraordinary? I remember a real-life person who could well have done that and Bingo! A Character emerges.

That's what happened with Gloriana June Hemphill, my protagonist in GLORY BE.

No, she is not me at 11. She's not my sister, or any of the 60s-era little girls I knew. We may have had glimmerings of Glory's personality. A tiny bit of rebellion inside us.

But we looked more like this. Goodie TwoShoes Choirgirls...
Than 60s activist.

 Every time my inner critic shouted No young white girl would have been that outspoken in 1964 Mississippi. Certainly no 11-year-old girl! -- I remembered one who would have been.

That little girl lived a few years later. She didn't live in Mississippi. But I know there were brave, spunky, outspoken girls-- even in the Deep South in the early 60s. And if Sarah had lived then, she would have been just like Glory. No matter what the year.

My more modern-day role model was a friend of my daughter's in Baltimore. We lived in a neighborhood of mostly-manicured, very green lawns. I bet Sarah wasn't even eleven when she decided she'd had enough of the strong chemicals some of our neighbors used on their grass. The little signs everybody posted cautioning Dogs and People to stay off the recently-sprayed grass offended her.

Her sign read:
"This lawn is safe for birds and other creatures."  Or maybe it was DOGS and other creatures. I think there was a stick-ish figure of a bird illustrating her sign. If you agreed to do away with the harsh fertilizers, you got one for your lawn. Quite a few of these hand-lettered signs attached to a Popsicle stick were planted around our neighborhood. That was just the beginning of her activism.

So when I needed someone in my head as a model for my own girl character, Sarah came to mind. No, she didn't look a thing like "my" Glory. But she acted quite a bit like I hope Glory would have behaved,  a decade later. Or even in 1964.

I'd love to know if others visualize characters as people they know while writing.
Do you combine personalities?
Use a real photograph?
Any great tips out there?

PS Today is Sarah's real birthday- Not July 4th, but pretty close to a holiday!
Happy birthday and thanks for the inspiration.   

1 comment:

Shannon Hitchcock ~ Children's Writer said...

I love your tip about thinking of a person you know who would act the way you need your character to. I often start with a family member and then make intentional changes.