Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding Inspiration for Characters by Merrillee Whren

What can serve as inspiration for a character or a set of characters? I don't know about other writers, but my characters come to me in a variety of ways. One of my early attempts at writing a novel came as the result of my mother's sudden death. I wrote a story about a heroine who was coming back home to her mother's funeral. Writing that story helped me cope. The book went through numerous versions before it finally sold many years later. I was thrilled when that story was published because it is dear to my heart. Here is that book.

The hero and heroine in the story that became my first Love Inspired book formed in my mind because of a song by Dwight Yoakam called "Ain't That Lonely Yet." The song tells that story of a guy who got dumped by his girl, and now she's back and trying to patch things up. He doesn't want anything to do with it. The characters in my book, THE HEART'S HOMECOMING, were born as a result of that song.

Secondary characters often become the heroes or heroines in subsequent books. The heroine of LOVE WALKED IN, Beth Carlson, didn't even have a name in THE HEART'S HOMECOMING. She was only referred to as Max's mom. Max was a fourteen-year-old boy in the story. We see Max again as a troubled teen in LOVE WALKED IN. Ever since I wrote about Max, I've wanted to give him his own love story. But before I could do that, I had to tell Brittany Gorman's story. She and Max eventually become high school sweethearts, but if you read my upcoming January 2012 book, MONTANA MATCH, you will see that their relationship doesn't last.

I could go on and on about what makes characters spring to life in my mind, but I want to know what kind of characters grab your attention? Do you like to read about people who are larger than life or a character who is more like you? What kind of characters stay with you long after you have read a book?


  1. This is hard to say but I like real people. The ones who stand with me are the ones who have flaws and are often insecure in one way or another but still do what they need to. I like real heroines. hard to say what makes them memorable. a book I just finished had the heroine helping street kids and orphans because she had been there you see from her view what it was like and the book had me thinking of how orphans and foster children are still treated.

  2. I often have characters develop from real life situations and people, too, Merrilee. And I often think those are my best characters. Do you think that's because of the emotional connectioni we bring to them?

  3. Hi Merrillee:

    I like characters who I would want to be or want to love. I enjoy characters who are ‘wide’, who as Whitman says, can contain many contradictions.

    I want the ‘getting to know’ a character to be a journey of discovery. Surprise me. I don’t read to have ordinary experiences.

    If characters are ordinary, they must do extra ordinary things. If they are extra ordinary, then they must face challenges that require the help of others to overcome. Sometimes growth is returning to your roots.


  4. Jenny,
    Sometimes it is hard to say why we connect with certain characters. I think we all want to be able to relate to a character in some way whether it's because they have flaws like us or do something that we could see ourselves doing in the same situation.

  5. Linda,
    I do think characters that develop out of real life situations do have an emotional connection to us because we know what they are going through to overcome their problems.

  6. Vince,
    I like your Whitman quote. Characters often struggle with themselves over a situation.

  7. Merrillee, I like it when books have interconnected characters like yours do. Somehow knowing that you will meet up with characters again is nice. It is more like real life.

  8. Merrillee, I guess that is why I dont like the 30 something desperate to get married as if life will end if they remain single. Its like if you are over 30 and single your life will end. for an over 40 single it is almost like there is something wrong to be happily single.
    The other trait is the professional characters who think anyone who doesn't aspire to be a professional. One book a sister was doing Business Admin and was looked down on for not aspiring to be better. Annoyed me as I am doing this and dont consider it an inferior job its what I want to do.

  9. Eva,
    It is fun to revisit characters. I just wish I had more time for reading.

  10. Jenny,
    I like to have all kinds of characters--ones that have college degrees and others who don't. The heroine I'm writing about now has worked as a waitress and is now a receptionist. Her only ambition is to take care of her sick child.

  11. Very interesting post, Merrillee! I get my ideas all over the place, too. Songs, people I read about or see on TV, people I see in real life, a conglomeration of people I know, or they can be totally made up to suit a plot idea.

    I love what you said, Vince. Will keep that in mind!

  12. Merrillee thats what I like about LI books they have different heroines and I haven't found ones that are obsessed with marrying etc like some chick lits. I also love the different careers. I think you can sometimes work out what sort of career the author had previously when all the characters in books seem to have high powered jobs. Actually the one I am thinking about has had all her heroines in high powered jobs or owning and running a successful business and were in well paying jobs.
    I love how LI has all different jobs.

  13. Missy,
    I hear you about making up characters using a conglomerate of several people. You can take characteristics from several people and put them all together in a fictional character. What fun!

  14. Jenny,
    I try to think of as many different jobs as I can. I would hate to have to write the same kind of jobs all the time.

  15. From Madrid a very brief comment :)
    The characters that stay with me don't have any special feature or manner; they're the ones I want to keep praying for as if they were living somewhere far, who I never met but still hold close to my thoughts and from time to time make me wonder how they're doing now that they overcame the hurdles and difficulties that brought them to me in the first place.
    Am I making any sense?

    Once I confided to dear husband this and he said that since you - writers - don't write endless stories by keeping the characters close I'm doing it for you ahahahah.

    I'm one of those people who believe there's no limit of people you can connected to and books are a wonderful way to do so; and I KNOW that somewhere there are people living similar circumstances so in a way I'm rooting for someone I never met but still wish the best.

    "No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books." ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning