by Cricket McRae
The other night my guy and I went to a birthday party. A few minutes after we got there, a man I will call TJ walked up to us.
“Hey there.” Points to himself. “TJ. I’m here as R’s date. Not that we’re you know, dating. We’re just ----ing. Hahahahaha. I don’t know you. I’d remember if I knew you because I always remember good lookin’ women.” Peers around. “Where’s my friend Jack?”
And off he went to find his fifth of Jack Daniels, which he carried with him all evening, swigging directly from the bottle until it was gone. I kid you not. Why, after all, dirty a glass?
Then he passed out in the backyard.
Between his delightful greeting (we had, in fact, met before, and it was just as unpleasant the first time) and his blessed unconsciousness, he yammered loudly to anyone within listening range, insulted several of the other party goers, made out with some woman who was not his “date” for the evening, and had his face slapped.
Now: this was a large party with lots of people. Most of us were well over the age of forty, with a few thirty-somethings tossed in. There were martinis and mojitos, chatting and catching up, lots of laughter and a little dancing later on. It was, in short, a fun time.
Except, of course, for TJ. He was obnoxious, loud, and rude when sober, and then he and Jack managed to exacerbate those marvelous qualities as the evening progressed. And to make it worse, the woman who was supposed to be his date was the birthday girl.
At one point my S.O. breathed into my ear, “Oh, man. You have to put that guy in a book. He’s a perfect asshole.”
Ruefully, I told my dear one that however much I’d love to mine such an extreme character, he was, unfortunately, too perfect. TJ was simply too much that guy: a caricature of himself. A real person who could only be a cliché in fiction.
At a recent reading, a woman asked whether the people I base my characters on recognized themselves in my writing. Her question presupposed that I use friends and family as characters, and I had to explain that I really don’t do that.
She insisted that you have to write what you know, so my fiction must reflect actual people. I pointed out that I also know all the other folks I’ve met in a lifetime of reading fiction and non-fiction, as well as watching movies and television. So if you take that into consideration, the questioner was probably right.
Last week my aunt called. She said she’d read Lye in Wait, and she’d finally figured out who everyone in the book was.
I made inquisitive noises, though I suspected where the conversation was headed.
“Tootie is your great grandmother McCoy, isn’t she? But are you Sophie Mae or Meghan?”
Neither one. Both. In fact, I’m everyone in my books, to a degree, because I can’t help but write from aspects of myself. Sophie Mae isn’t me, though we share some of the same interests. And Meghan isn’t me, though I’m short and have brown hair. Barr Ambrose isn’t me, though I’m originally from Wyoming. And Erin isn’t me, even if I was a smart ass ten-year-old.
Maybe I can't put TJ into a book until I get better at being a jerk. I'll try and work on that.
So where do your characters come from? Are they alter egos? Have you ever put someone you know directly on the page? Do you get to know your characters as you write, or do they come to you fully formed?