2009 Recap #2: Who are your characters based on?

Note: This post was originally published on September 10, 2009

I recently got this question from a friend: Are your characters based on anyone you know?

The answer to that question is mostly, no. My heroine, Isabel Wilde, is an idealized version of myself, the person I imagine I'd be if I had more confidence and street smarts. When I first started writing her, she had a much softer core (like me), but now she's evolved into much more of a bad ass.

Interestingly, my decision to give Isabel red hair made her more remote to me. It was based on an old superstition associating ginger-colored hair with witches, but I am not generally attracted by red hair and so in creating Isabel, I never intended for her to have it. Perhaps what they say is true, however. Your characters start out as yours but over time take on a life of their own. Such has been the case with Isabel, in both personality and appearance.

Isabel's right-hand man, Will, is physically based on Bruce Lee. He is small, but wiry and extremely strong. There is nothing noteworthy about his appearance, giving him the ability to move through the streets of London without being noticed. He is an experienced street fighter and an expert with most weapons. His personality is a composite of antiheros I've observed in film, literature, and TV over the years, with a dash of my husband mixed in.

When I first conceived Will, he was meant to be a much larger man, more of the traditional body guard type. However, I quickly realized he couldn't be so recognizable–there could be nothing, like extreme height, that would make him stand out. His stature became smaller, and at the same time, his role in the story became second only to Isabel (and, arguably, to the murder victim in the story).

Creating characters and dialogue is so far my favorite part of writing this novel. It's refreshing to have characters say outrageous things you could never say in real life. It's also fun to experience their life through their eyes. I complain a lot about how hard writing this book is, but I would never want to do anything else.

Holly West

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