I’m sure I’m not the only writer grabbing bits and pieces from real life to add texture — and verisimilitude — to my fiction. I’ve called myself a “story vampire” for years and my nearest and dearest know that I’ll suck the life out of their tidbits, transforming chatter into stories.
On occasion I base the appearance of a character on someone real. It’s rarely a person I know well and it much more likely a face familiar from my neighborhood.
New York is a large city, but like most large cities it’s really many, many smaller neighborhoods and locals tend to spend most of our time in a limited number of geographic areas. You might have a home neighborhood, a work neighborhood, a comfort zone near your best friend’s place, familiar turf in the area where your lover lives, a few blocks around a doctor’s office, a favorite museum or a similar selection of “hoods.”
Since I live and work in my tiny, studio apartment, go to a gym two blocks away and I have breakfast at a coffee bar in-between, a good deal of my life takes place in a relatively small piece of the city. Fortunately, it’s a lively part of town with lots of interesting faces.
In the upcoming MONSTER — my take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — I based the appearance of a villainous character on a woman at my gym. I’ve also seen her at the coffee bar where I go after the gym and, very rarely, on the street in the neighborhood.
This particular older woman has a distinctive appearance — half Village chic and half zoned-out peculiar. She wears a great deal of make-up at the gym, has at least one tattoo and sometimes she’s just not quite there. At least that’s what I thought.
After I finished the first draft of the novella, I saw her a few times at the coffee bar. Her affect was slightly disturbing. But the other day she talked to me. I was stretching at the gym and she admired my flexibility. She had a sweet voice and a gentle manner. She was nice — but she was also my villain. She was the character come to life.
What a freaky experience!