Anne here, and today I'm responding to a question from Quantum (for which he's won a book): "When reading your books I often wonder whether you imagined yourself as the heroine while writing, imbuing her with qualities that you have or would like to have. Daisy the seamstress is a favorite and perhaps you are stitching ideas together like Daisy making dresses."
I had to really think about this. When I'm writing, I try to imagine myself into each of the characters — not that the characters are me in any way, but that to access them, I have to 'dream' my way into them and how they are feeling, thinking etc. But it's not much different to the way I imagine myself into the places in the books, when I haven't been able to visit them in person.
It's a common belief that writers base their characters on real people, but all I can say is that it's not true for me at all. The closest I get to using real people in my books is pinching their name for characters, and I only do that with friends' names and then only for minor characters. (For instance, Sir Alan and Lady Reynolds who give a party in The Scoundrel's Bride. See also who I dedicated the book to.) I also borrow physical characteristics from actors sometimes, but mainly it's the mood of the photo that inspires me, like the one above.
When I was first published a good friend who loves psychology examined my first book with an assumption that the heroine was some form of me. She was a little perplexed. Then she read the second book, and then the next, still looking for me-as-character. I'm not sure when she gave up looking for evidence that they were some version of me, but she did quite early on.
There is obviously some part of me in all my characters — they come from my imagination, after all. Some have my sense of humor, some respond to the events and situations in the book as I might, but mostly my characters do and think things I would never do. Occasionally they do things I would love to be able to do — like come up with instant snappy comebacks in dialogue. In real life I often only think of the perfect comeback an hour or two later, or even at 2am. But generally they are who they are. Other writers I've talked to about this have similar responses — I suppose it's where the notion of "a muse" comes from.
Some of my main characters spring to life more or less fully formed on the page. Others take longer to emerge, and I ask myself questions about them, and what they are feeling at any point in the story. I build up a picture in my mind of who they are and what makes them tick. Even then, some can surprise me.
I remember when I was writing The Spring Bride, and Jane said to Zachary Black — "Oh grow up!" In the scene she and the hero are arguing over her decision to make a practical marriage. Up to that point she'd been sweet and cooperative and her spurt of temper took me as much by surprise as it took Zachary. I know that sounds weird, when Jane was my creation, but one of the joys of writing is when a character takes on a life of their own.
And some readers wrote to me, saying how much they liked that point where, to quote a couple of them, "Jane grew a backbone."
Here's that scene:
“You make it sound so cold-blooded, and I’m not,” Jane said.
He laughed, a short, hard sound. “Yes you are. Still, you deserve better than a fellow like Cambury. You can’t let yourself be sold off like this—”
“Oh, grow up!” she snapped.
His jaw dropped. “What?”
“I said grow up! Oh, it’s all so easy from where you stand, isn’t it, Mr. Black? You look at me and see the fine clothes, and you see I’m living in a big house in the best part of town and you imagine it’s all so perfect, don’t you?”
“You can’t possibly imagine—can you, Mr. Black?—that I might know what it is to be hungry, what it is to be cold, what it is to have nowhere safe to sleep at night—” She broke off and took a deep, steadying breath.
“I have nothing, not a penny of my own but the allowance Lady Beatrice gives me—and she has no reason to give it—I am no kin to her. It is nothing but kindness—charity, if you will.” Her eyes glittered with unshed tears. Angry unshed tears.
“I have little education, no skills, nothing but my face to recommend me. Lady Beatrice has given me the opportunity to make the kind of marriage that will secure my future—mine and any children I might have—and neither you, nor anyone else, is going to stop me from having it, no matter how much I might—” She broke off, shaking her head. “Oh, please, just go. And don’t come back. I don't wish to see you ever again.”
* * * * *
Jane isn't the only character who has surprised me with something they said or did, or behaved differently from how I'd initially imagined them, but I won't bore you with endless examples. I will say, however, that the surprise often comes in a scene where I'm handwriting first (which I don't always do) so I guess my subconscious is kicking in. And when that happens, it's a real boost.
But rather than characters that are some version of me or even of someone I know, I would much prefer to write the kind of characters I would love to meet, characters who surprise and entertain me — like Lady Beatrice, for instance, the kind of woman who we'd never meet in life.
So in a way you're right, Quantum — I am a bit like Daisy the dressmaker. Sometimes the character (or in her case, the dress) comes to me wholly imagined, and other times, it comes of draping and pinning and snipping and trying out different fabrics and styles until the right one emerges. Thanks for the question.
Question for readers: Have you ever come across a character in a book who reminds you of someone you know? Do you like it or does it feel a bit weird? Or is there a character in a book that you'd love to meet, because they're nothing like the people you meet in real life?