You read a great book and then start to wonder. Did the author make this up, or are the characters and situations actually part of the author’s own life? Was her own child kidnapped? Is she deathly afraid of snakes? Was her husband murdered?
I write mysteries in which a dead body usually turns up, and I’ve had readers ask me if I really discovered a dead body and solved a murder.
Well . . . no.
Some authors may use characters and events taken directly from their own lives, with or without telling the reader that this is what they’ve done. But in my own writing, I’ve never written anything that was fully autobiographical. I’ve never grabbed a character out of real life and stuck him or her in a book.
But bits and pieces of me, or friends or relatives, are in almost all my characters (villains as well as heros and heroines!), and bits and pieces of events in a book often come from something in my life. But I want to emphasize those three words: bits and pieces.
How does this work?
Cate Kinkaid, lead character in the Cate Kinkaid Files mystery series, likes cats. This isn’t a particularly unusual trait, but it comes straight from me. I like cats. Cate has doubts about the value of feng shui. Me too. Cate has a small scar on her hand from a childhood incident. This is only one line in the book – but it came from the scar I still have on my hand from a long-ago childhood grab at a hot stove handle.
A woman Cate meets in Book #1 is especially fond of pansies because they bloom all winter around her Oregon home. This is another one-line remark in the book, but it came because I’ve been surprised and impressed how my pansies bloom so cheerfully even in winter cold and rain.
Uncle Joe in that same book broke his hip in a fall from a ladder. That was personal experience: falling off ladders is practically a family trait with my husband and me. Neither of us broke a hip in our falls,, but my mother-in-law did. It was a lengthy and sometimes difficult recovery period. So that went in the book too.
A member of the Whodunit Club in that same book always wears purple. A woman I didn’t know but whom I saw occasionally at a church I went to a long time ago, sticks in my memory because she was always in purple. Another whodunit member mentions that she was in a garden club that actually disbanded because of one disagreeable member, then reorganized without her. This happened in a writers’ group I belonged to briefly.
In the current Cate Kinkaid book, “Death Takes a Ride,” Clancy, the motorcycle-loving dog, got in the book because of a biker acquaintance who always carried his dog, complete with goggles, in a box on his bike. The ex-trophy-wife Candy can do an impressive spin in her high-heeled boots. This was a reverse-of-me trait, in that I’m a total klutz in heels. The antique car restoration business in the book came from my husband’s interest in old cars.
As has been said before, it’s all grist for the writer’s mill.
One character who has more of me in her than any other I’ve written is Ivy Malone. (Some of you may be familiar with her in “Invisible,” “In Plain Sight,” “On the Run” and “Stranded.”) Ivy is the older woman who discovers she seems to have aged into invisibility, that a good many people just don’t see her any more. It’s a main premise of the book. This came straight from my own growing-older experience with “invisibility.” Ivy has other traits that are parts of me: the “black thumb” when it comes to growing anything. My Christian faith, of course. My annoyance with people who call me “Young Lady.” Ivy has leanings toward eccentricity; me too. Ivy hates grits; me too. Her experiment with dying her possum-gray hair was a disaster; so was mine.
But Ivy is definitely not all me. She’s much more adventurous, willing to spend nights on lookout for vandals in a cemetery. She’s also more outgoing (I’m the poster gal for introvert.)
What about those villains that have some bit or piece of me? Well, I’ll just let that remain a mystery. A writer can’t give up all her secrets.
So if you’re a writer, I’d certainly say to look within yourself – and within your friends and relatives too – for interesting traits and quirks to make your characters into real people. This is a rich source of material. If you’re worried someone will recognize an unflattering bit about themselves, change it just enough to protect the innocent (which is you). Although it’s been my experience that some people will “recognize” themselves even when you didn’t have that person in mind at all, and when a real person does read something you actually based on him or her – they probably won’t recognize themselves anyway!
How much of yourself do you put in your writing? Share some of your favorites below -- we'd love to hear from you!
|About the Author|
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|Death Takes a Ride|
by Lorena McCourtney
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Death Takes a Ride
Cate Kinkaid arrives at H&B Classic Auto Restorations to give a friend a ride. But, as usual, trouble
Bestselling and award-winning author Lorena McCourtney takes readers on another wild ride of mystery in this clever cozy mystery, part of her popular series The Cate Kinkaid Files.
finds Kate even there--this time in the form of one dead man, one wounded man, and what appears to be a pretty obvious case of self-defense. Owner Matt Halliday wants to hire her, but not for this case. Instead, Cate is charged with finding a man who owns a particular motorcycle Matt would like to buy. As her search progresses, she begins to suspect that the shooting in Matt's office may not have been as cut-and-dried as it appeared.
Angie here -- to read my review of Death Takes A Ride, click here.