In my stories, I often try to give voice to some people who live on the fringes of society and aren’t often featured in popular fiction.
Many writers put a great deal of imagination into creating characters, but I find I tend to use people I have known, and most of my characters are composites. I also draw on my background for most of my settings. I try to get into the protagonist’s head, put him or her in a setting with which I am familiar, and then sit back to see how the characters react to the situation in which they find themselves.
Because I have worked in a variety of settings, I am comfortable placing my characters as laborers or forklift drivers on the midnight shift in a steel fabrication plant, or operating a massive glass melter in a fiberglass manufacturing facility.
I have also worked supervising an inmate work crew in a large medium security prison and moved into teaching special education at inner city public schools and alternative schools, both public and private, and those settings show up, too.
The protagonist in my Jesse Damon crime novel series is not based on any one specific person. After twenty
Anthony was convicted of rape when he was fourteen. “I’d never do anything she didn’t want to do. She
“My sister was gonna tell my mom that I’d been drinking. I was so mad. I grabbed her by the neck and shook her. And then she was dead. Now I’m locked up. For life. My mom lost both her kids in one stupid minute.”
“I loved her,” Gilbert said. “I still do. But I was seventeen and she was only fifteen. Her father reported that I’d raped her, and she was afraid to go against him. As soon as she turned eighteen and moved out, she started writing me.” He showed me some of the letters, where she apologized to him for not having the courage to stand up to her father. But she didn’t offer to testify now, either.
“When I was a little kid, my dad would boost me through windows so I could pass stuff out the window to him. We did that for years. Then one time somebody was home when we didn’t expect it. I got caught. I never told them about my dad. They had my fingerprints from lots of burglaries. I waited and waited for my dad to come visit me in jail, or at least write me a note. I never heard from him again.”
Other people who cry out to me to be in fiction include my uncles, who came back from war traumatized. Despite some attempts of family to help them, they couldn’t hold down a job, became homeless and drifted into alcohol and drug dependency. And girls I knew who made poor choices in mates, marrying men who turned out to be abusive, to be told by their families, “You made your bed. Now lie in it.” People devastated by injury or illness, job loss or the dissolution of their family.
So many of these people do their best, just to try to maintain a reasonable life. And so many of them fail. I want to give their voices a chance to be heard.
How about your characters? Do you deliberately develop them, or do they spring from people who have been in your life?