Learning to Write XXI
I don’t believe that anyone created a character from a handful of dust. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to create someone who bore no resemblance to a person that the writer had ever met or read about or heard about or had access to in some form or other. That is not what is meant by creating character.
Some of the characters in your novel will be lurking within the concepts of the novel, perhaps for a while before you begin to commit it to paper. If it’s a crime novel there will be a policeman or some kind of investigator, if the novel deals with psychology you will already have some more or less hazy idea of a professional in that field. There may be a heroine and a villain, and all of these characters will be reminiscent of figures from your own life, though often present themselves to you through your subconscious mind.
Another source for fictional character comes directly from the author. So much so that there are writers and critics who believe that all of their characters are aspects of their own self. With a little introspection it can be seen that there lurks, under the camouflage of a unified identity, dozens of possible alternative selves, both masculine and feminine, easy-going and potentially violent, rational and religious, warm and cold, etc. I remember writing about a particularly vicious psychopath in one of my novels and realising anew each day that I lived with him, that I was drawing on my own personal intelligence of how that character’s mind worked. He was a part of me, controlled and suppressed in everyday life, but there nevertheless, even within reach.
I believe it was the author Erika Jong who said, Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.