Writers & Characters

Where does the writer end and the character begin? My characters are NOT me. But I do infuse bits and pieces of myself into all of them.

I’m not a monster or a killer or, for that matter, a man — and yet I’ve written about monsters, killers and a whole lot of men. Putting myself in the “shoes” of my characters is part of the process, as going inside the character’s head makes their world view real and motivations, actions and relationships make a great deal more sense if you start from the inside and work outward.

Of course outsides — appearance, experiences, education, geography and other external factors play a huge role in making a character real. In my opinion, that’s how the writer’s life becomes source material for characters. I can draw from my own life to flesh out any character. From a dedicated physician to a devious con artist — they all need back stories, family histories, hobbies, hometowns, preoccupations and passions.

Because a sense of place and time is so important to me (both as a reader and as a writer) I usually set my stories in New York or other locations I know well. Many of my characters dance, enjoy the theater, go to art museums and travel for fun. I don’t have to do a lot of research in these areas as I dance, enjoy the theater, go to art museums and travel for fun.

I use my knowledge and first hand experiences as a baseline and focus my research on the area (idea, place, time, hobby, etc.) that best suits the character. Starting with something I already know about is more than a convenient shortcut — it helps provide me with a framework for my research.

That’s why my characters wander around the museums I love, take subways around New York, travel to Berlin, work out at the gym, and go out dancing. I set a pivotal scene in the new Monster in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art. My familiarity with the place added veracity. When I needed a specialty for a doctor character, I picked dermatology because I’ve been a patient often enough to know the drill and I like my skin cancer doc.

I’m much more likely to write about a baseball fan than a football fan because my dad is a huge baseball fan and I grew up understanding the nuances of the game. This brings me to the importance of tapping other sets of likes, experiences, geographies, etc. My passions are mine and I often need to explore something outside my realm for a character. Fortunately, I have friends who are football fans, technology whizzes, car people, suburban homeowners, carpenters, financial planners, filmmakers, bartenders, hikers, photographers….

Writers & characters — we have interesting relationships!



  1. If anyone thought my worlds were based entirely on my life it would seem I am a sick mofo.

    Oh the places we go when we lay our fingers on the keys or put the pen to the page.

    • Candy

      LOL… I got some very funny responses to a story I posted on my SweetCopy blog. Some of the readers thought I’d spent a year in Florence writing a Vampire novel and having an affair with an Italian detective. That’s what the character did. I spent six days there over Thanksgiving. Some of my characters commit murder, con money out of innocent strangers and turn into werewolves, too… but no one seems to confuse me with those characters. Very curious!

  2. I really enjoyed this post! Like you I invest bits and pieces of myself in all my characters, but what has surprised me the most is the past experience I have drawn upon, experience I never would have consciously thought of as valuable. For example, I knew full well that my interest in biology would underpin a huge amount of the world and people of Vokhtah, but I never expected my trips as a passenger in a glider to one day help me describe non-powered /flight/!

    • Candy

      And yet you were somehow compelled, or at the very least interested, in experiencing that kind of flight. Nothing is wasted! I remind myself of that, when I think I’ve “wasted time” at one endeavor or another. You just don’t know when something you’ve studied, experienced or a place you’ve visited will turn out to be fiction fodder.

      • ‘Fiction fodder’ – I like that! Mind you, I’ve also had to learn new things that I would probably never want to know in real life. I’m not a the kind of person who likes the great outdoors, at least not in a ‘let’s go camping’ sense, but I had to research knots and hunters traps for the new WIP. I guess it works both ways 😀

        • Candy

          My best bet is friends who are into things I’d NEVER do, plus friends of friends. It’s amazing what you find if you spread the net wide and ask, “Do you know anyone who does….” OR “Do you know anyone who ever….”

          It’s like having a group of expert consultants. Remember, I’m the one with a medical examiner on speed dial!

  3. I’ve used my life as a script for myself as the character in my books. I’m lucky I chose to write my diaries and not the experiences of an alligator farmer about which I’d have known nothing. On the other hand Candy, just like you I’d be able to ask a fiend- sorry , that should read friend I think, all about that as a job. Having done that I’d have to populate the book and in doing so have to infuse each character with mannerisms we note as we live our day to day lives. We’re not just writers, we’re keen observers of life without which our books would be full of one dimensional people. Having read your cast list though, I’m quite worried about the company you keep, con-men, vampires etc.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Candy

      LOL… no con-men friends — although I’ve met my share of liars. I haven’t met a vampire, at least I don’t think so. I dance tango and so many of the dancers never seem to be out in the daylight. hehehehe…

  4. A favorite joke among my writer friends is how our internet search history works to qualify us as being in need of professional help… the things I’ve googled in the process of working on my WIP are pretty scary and they all stem from taking bits and pieces of my life letting my imagination take them to an extreme. The metal diesel barrels my grandpa kept on his Montana property have now turned into hiding places for dead bodies.

    • Candy

      LOL… Before 9/11 I subscribed to an annual guide for mystery writers. It was a resource listing all sorts of things, information about guns, poisons, etc. Because of the listings about explosives the guide was shut down. I, too, have done some research on pretty weird things. A few years ago, a friend was taking a photography class and she had to shoot portraits in settings. One of her classmates guessed that I wrote mysteries because the bookcase behind me had forensic pathology books. Definitely not light reading.

      Still, my weirdest inspirations have come from articles in the newspaper (or on the web) about real people OR from the lives of my friends and their friends. Real life is plenty weird. You can add a vampire (werewolf, ghost, etc.) or serve it straight up and life is still WEIRD enough for fiction.

      Because I was writing about a 21st century woman and not a 19th century man, I needed to give my Dr. Hyde contemporary deviations from our life today. So much of what Stevenson would have thought of as evil, abnormal, devious, etc. is just plain life now, I drew from stories I heard from some of my friends about entertainments outside my norm, but that exist (or existed recently). The internet was helpful in confirming some of the wilder bits and pieces of reality. My imagination did the rest.

      Still, I wouldn’t want to have to sit across a desk from an FBI agent and explain my research process. Writers are CURIOUS people.