Where Do Stories and Characters Come From?

March 28, 2012

Sew I was working at the sewing store the other day…yes, I know that’s corny, but it makes me happy, and by now you should all know that I’m a little corny, so I’m going to continue. Anyway, this customer, I’ll call her Mary, not because I’m trying to protect her privacy, but because I just can’t remember her name. So Mary came in and asked if we did sewing for other people. The answer is no, we don’t. We sell sewing machines, embroidery software and sewing tools. Mary asked if I sewed. “Yes.” She asked if I like sewing. “Yes, I love it.” Would you be interested in doing some sewing for me? “No, I don’t sew for money. “ (I promise you this isn’t a sewing column. Really, I promise!)

So it turns out Mary has created a fashion design, but she doesn’t sew and wants to find someone to sew for her. I find this interesting, and the store is slow so we continue talking. She also has to figure out how to market her product, and the conversation turns to craft fairs, online stores, social media and blogs…and finally—here it is—writing.

Not only does Mary not sew, she’s not a writer…oh, hey I remember her name now, but we’ll just stay with Mary. It’s not that far off anyway…so Mary isn’t a writer, but I am. We start talking about writing and the advertising and marketing work I’ve done, then the magazine articles and newspaper articles I’ve written, and Mary wants to know if I’d consider writing some press releases and promotional blurbs for her. “Yes, yes I will. I write for money.”

So she asks what I’ve been working on lately. “Why fiction. Thank you for asking.” She is impressed and wants to know more about my story, so I give her a little description of my characters and the plot of my WIP (okay, WASS, or Work at a StandStill). Now she is fascinated. She loves to read and wants to know where my ideas come from. “Well, just from living. There are ideas all around. Every day and every person you meet is inspiration for a story.” (Little did she know she would end up in this blog…as Mary.) She is satisfied and tells me knowingly that she was pretty sure that the characters in the novels she read were actually real people.

“Well,” I tell her. “It’s not really like that.”

Okay, now she wants to know how I know what to write. I debate. Do I tell her? I rarely tell non-writers how I work. Most writers understand, most non-writers, well, they think I’m crazy. I suppose they could be write…yes, I know, but it makes me happy.

Mary pressures a little more, intrigued by how fiction makes it to the printed page…So am I. I’d like to know how to get it to the printed page…and she asks, “but how do you create all of those stories and characters.”

I don’t really want to tell her, and I consider saying, “I took a class,” but that would be a lie. Then the words just spill out of my mouth. “The characters tell me the story. I just write it down.”

Now she is satisfied, sure that she was write and states that obviously, I interview real people, and that’s where the story comes from.

Instead of smiling and saying, “Sure that’s it,” my mouth keeps moving and I say, “No, the characters are fictional. They’re in my head, and I just let them tell the story.”

Suddenly her face shuts down, and I realize the error of my ways. She now believes me to be a schizophrenic, hearing voices in my head. (Who knows? Wven I’m not sure that isn’t true, but it’s working for me, so I’ll go with it.)

Mary quickly thanks me for my help, tells me she’ll get back to me about the promotional writing, and says she better not keep me from my work any longer.

Sew…she was write. I really did need to get back to work. (See isn’t that fun? Okay, corny but fun.)

Really, I know better than to explain to non-writers how I write, but I’m never sure exactly what I should tell them. What do you say? How do you explain your writing process to non-writers? Do I really need medication? All you writers out there, tell me where your stories come from…come on, you can tell me. I’ll understand.

Tari

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2 Responses to “Where Do Stories and Characters Come From?”


  1. I get inspired by random things. Maybe a detail in a movie I wish would have been expanded on, or another fictional character that never got enough spotlight (in my opinion). I am always on the lookout for heroes needing their story told…and a romance of their own. 😉

    It funny still to hear other writers say the characters tell me what to write, and a few years ago, I would have looked at you funny. lol, But once I entered this crazy world of written fantasies, I now realize just how true that is. I start with an idea and the characters don’t always do what I tell them too. lol

  2. taristhread Says:

    Miss Kitty Roads- I know what you mean, not only do they not do what I tell them to do, I’m sometimes surprised by what they do!!

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