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The bits and pieces that make a character

Once or twice, people have asked me who I base my characters on. The moment they ask, I know that they are not fiction writers.

What makes me say that?

Simply because character development isn’t about ‘lifting’ a real person you know and dropping them into a book. Let me give you an example of what I mean, via this short interview with David Graham the actor who was the voice of Parker in the ’60s TV series, Thunderbirds.

Parker, the character, was a safe-cracker from the East End of London, with a voice which came from a wine waiter in Cookham (which is a fairly posh bit of southern England).

Creating characters is like that. You see someone do something of interest and think, “Hmm…. I can use that somewhere,” and, before you know it, it has shown up as one of the features of some character. It is quite unusual to bring an entire person into a book lock, stock and barrel. Not in my experience, anyway.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with it of course. One or two of the characters in my books have borrowed liberally from people I know or historical characters. Sallent, in particular, has some distinctly Caligular-esque aspects to him and there are one or two occasions where someone who has annoyed me in the real world has come to a sticky end in Bremmand but, as a rule, characters tend to be a patchwork.

Collecting all the pieces and stitching them together is what makes writing such fun. If all you did was ‘copy and paste’ from the real world it would be deadly dull, don’t you think?

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