by Linda Rodriguez
One of the most challenging things--and most rewarding--about writing a new novel is creating the characters who will bring your book to life. Still, where do we find these characters? Do we create them from the people that we know best? Do we pull together scraps and pieces of the people we encounter as we move around the city or countryside and create a new book person from those scraps and pieces? Of course, the answer to each of these is yes. Sometimes, we create our characters from the people we have known most of our lives, our family and our friends, and sometimes we create our characters by cobbling together bits and pieces of what we have seen in strangers we have encountered through our daily lives.
Today, I'd like to talk about a relatively new method of coming up with intriguing characters for your novels. I'm talking about social media. I realized that I have come to feel as if I know a number of people that I have never met in real life, but whom I have interacted with for many years online and have even drawn on them for characters that I have used in books. What truly made me aware of this was a fairly new social media contact who happens to be a professional football player named John Rush. (Blog at https://t.co/2bj5VNXilH, Twitter @JohnRush32, and Instagram @johnrush5) John is not your typical football player, since he is Canadian and vegan and liberal, as well as one of the hugest dog lovers in the world. John was so different from the stereotype for his career that he caused me to stop and think about how he would function as a character--not necessarily in my own mystery novels but rather in some of my writer friends' romance novels, which feature professional sports figures as love interests, all of whom are super macho, conservative, aggressive, etc.
I first became aware of John when he showed up in the Twitter feed of another writer friend. He was engaged in a battle with a troll who was insulting him for being vegan and for supporting gay people, using all kinds of slurs. Instead of hurling insults back at the troll, he promptly took control of the narrative, proclaiming, "Don't call me soy boy. Call me soy Daddy." Meanwhile, other people were laughing at the troll and informing him that this person he was calling a "beta" was actually a professional football player. My curiosity piqued, I investigated his account, only to find that he had two of the most adorable dogs I have ever seen and worked tirelessly to raise money for dog rescues. He had also just begun a fundraiser for an LGBTQIA organization, in which, if enough people donated and voted for it, he would wear a wedding dress to his Covid vaccination appointment. Since he was a rather large man with long hair and a substantial beard, this promised to be amusing, so I followed him on Twitter. (To be absolutely honest, I would have followed him anyway, because ... adorable dogs. What can I say?)
I enjoyed watching this quirky man's journey through time to his vaccination appointment, dressed
in a formal wedding gown with the flower crown on his head and a pair of white crocs on his feet. In the process, he raised over $15,000 for this worthy organization, raised awareness around LGBTQIA issues and gender stereotypes, and repeatedly urged his many followers to get vaccinated. He also verbally battled a number of bigots and trolls and campaigned to have Twitter and Instagram control their anti-LGBTQIA attacks. A perfect romance love interest, I thought.
This is often an effective tactic in developing a character, to choose to work against the typical outlines for that kind of character. A character who defies stereotypes and expectations is a character who draws our interest--always with the caveat that the character is well-written, of course. Hannibal Lecter has such a following because he is the antithesis of the typical villain. The whole point of the entire subgenre of anti-heroes is to push against the expectations and stereotypes of the typical hero. A character who doesn't fall into the mold for that type of character, one who has rough edges or angles that don't fit in that box, is a character who is easier to fully humanize. Such a character is much more likely to make an emotional connection with the reader.
I could see a romance novel written with a heroine who had been brought up in the male-dominated sports world and wound up in a position of control, such as owner of a team or general manager--perhaps through inheritance or family connections--brought into contact with a love interest based on John. Opposites attract is a standard in the romance field, but this totally reverses the roles for the characters, as well as the traditional roles for the genders, making for a lot of humor and conflict and interesting plot situations. I offer this freely to my romance writer friends, and who knows, if no one takes me up on it, I may have to write this novel myself.
How has modern technology and the world of the internet and social media affected your character building?