Make Characters Realistic but Not Real
Are you like me? I think it’s a mistake to base a character too closely on real people. On the other hand, interesting characters need realistic “warts.”
In mysteries and thrillers, the protagonist needs to be capable of solving problems. I can’t be the only reader tired of “dizzy” snoops in cozies who clumsily stumble into police investigations. I also don’t want to read about another neurotic genius, like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. Let’s face it - most problems are solved by normal people, albeit sometimes smarter or more observant than most.
Sara Almquist, the lead character in my medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain, is an epidemiologist. That profession gives her legitimate reasons to pry into everyone else’s business. She’s normal, but maybe a bit cranky and perhaps dotty about her dog Bug, who is based closely on my real Japanese Chin. (Please note I use “who” not “which” as an adjective to describe Bug.)
Realistic characters are amalgams. The dean of the medical school in my medical mystery Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight is a polished, aloof gentleman, but he feels no remorse when he assigns his associate dean Linda tasks that all but turn her into cannon fodder. He is a chimera of dozens of deans I’ve observed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I was a faculty member, and elsewhere.
Fantasy characters can be in real locations. Although I don’t base my characters on real people, some of my scenes are exactly as I saw them. I climbed over the roof of Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz, Bolivia as my heroine Sara does in Ignore the Pain. My trek was leisurely; hers wasn’t.
Realistic characters have emotions and attitudes. Six percent of the children born in Bolivia die before their fifth birthday. That statement is fact and lacks emotion.
In Ignore the Pain, I tried to show how my heroine Sara’s beliefs and attitudes changed as she advised Bolivians on complex, nuanced public health problems. Although she knows cocaine is dangerous, she understands why miners in decrepit mines at thirteen thousand feet chew coca leaves after she visits a mine of Potosí, Bolivia. I hope the situations she sees arouse empathy and other emotions in the readers, as they do in Sara.
Now it’s your turn. How do you create realistic fictional characters?
Bio: JL Greger is no longer a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; instead she’s putting tidbits of science and romance into her medical thrillers/ mysteries - Ignore the Pain, Coming Flu, and Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. She and Bug, her Japanese Chin dog, live in the Southwest. Her website is at http://www.jlgreger.com. Her blog JL Greger’s Bugs is at http://www.jlgregerblog.blogspot.com.
Blurb: In Ignore the Pain, Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission to assess children’s health in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and trying to trap her at the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the unsavory but sexy Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia. And coca is everywhere in Bolivia.
Sara and Xave will travel to Cuba in a fourth novel, called Malignancy. Oak Tree Press will be publishing this novel in the fall of 2014.
Amazon sell links for: Ignore the Pain http://amzn.com/1610091310 ,Coming Flu http://amzn.com/1610090985, and
Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight http://amzn.com/1610090624.
Thanks for sharing your advice and letting The Back Deck Blog readers have a chance to get to know you and your work, Janet!