Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Characters, and how we get them.

If any of you watch NCIS you're aware of the story arc that has most all of the other characters mad at McGee. If you don't, here's the deal: the other characters knew McGee was "writing" a book, but they didn't know he had gotten it published, with a fair degree of success. That fact came to light a few episodes ago, and now all of them are reading his book (a really nice hardcover, with "Book 1" and "Continuing Adventures" on the front, so apparently he got a multiple-book contract - way to go, McGee) and getting mad at him because they think the characters in his book are based - often unflatteringly - on them.

It is true that most of the people in McGee's book have names and positions very similar to his coworkers and friends (i.e. Tony = "Tommy", Jimmy Palmer = "Pimmy Jalmer", and the main character is "L.J. Tibbs" as opposed to McGee's boss, Leroy Jethro Gibbs). So I can see how most people watching the show see McGee squirm and say "They're not based on you guys!" and think to themselves Riiiiiiiight, McGee, sure they're not.

Except the writers. 'Cause I'm sympathizing with McGee. The process of aqcuiring characters, especially secondary characters, is an interesting one. My characters post that I wrote early on in this process captures a lot of it. Basically, if you know me, you might see - or think you see - yourself in my novel, but that is probably not true.

Although I do love this hilarious t-shirt and would probably wear it. Hehe.

So I can see where McGee is coming from. He used the basic setup of his workplace, changed names slightly (and I know how hard it is to name characters, so he gets some slack), maybe borrowed a few characteristics but then added in a whole bunch of other, unrelated stuff to fill out his characters and make them NOT just fictionalized versions of his coworkers.

An example from my book: Elspeth's friend from work is Andrea Duluth. She's 28, slim, and the chief dosimetrist at the cancer clinic where Elspeth works (in modern day, obviously). I happen to work with a chief dosimetrist who is 28 and slim, and a friend of mine. However, Andrea is an outgoing party girl, and my coworker is not. Andrea's long blonde hair comes from a friend of mine from high school, but I have no idea why she has green eyes. She could be considered to be named for two people - the chief dosimetrist at the University Hospital where I did my Master's program was named Andrea. But the Andrea in my book goes by Andi, which I got from DH's cousin, also named Andrea. I have no idea where I got the last name "Duluth". That just popped in.

See how convoluted this is getting? Basically, several people could concievably read my book and *think* that this character is based on them, but she's not. She's not based on anyone.

So I understand McGee's frustration, and I think most other writers watching the show do too.

Anyone out there reading this who can comment on how they build characters and/or any flack they've caught for certain ones?


Cindy said...

Tag, you're it!

Mrs. Mitty said...

Ha! Love that t-shirt. {bg}

My characters, let's see... My key characters are, from the outset, completely pulled from the ether of the story idea (or actually, the story idea is pulled from the ether of the fictional characters...) Er, maybe I don't know *how* I get those first key character. LOL IOW, they're not based on anybody.

Minor characters are where I may pick and choose features, characteristics, impressions of real people. But like you, no one person is a source of one character (unless they ask to be...and even then, the fictional character becomes just that, not the person they were based on.)

Sometimes I have "stand-ins" for characters until I get an idea that will flesh them out for me. (Example: "the three henchmen...all filthy, one tall and skinny and skaggy, one short and stocky, the other, who cares".) That's all the detail they get until they need more.

Don't know if all that blather is of any help, but there it is...{g}

Jon said...

This is one of my chief sources of anxiety in showing anything I write, or plan on writing, to anyone.

I could offend a lot of fucking people.

Jon said...

Unnecessarily so, at that.