Until I wrote The Desert Hedge Murders, my characters were completely imaginary, most likely influenced by memories of everyone I've ever known, even if they were only actors in a movie.
With this second Sylvia and Willie mystery, I tried something new. In creating The Florida Flippers, a travel club of elderly ladies, I borrowed the names of four of my female relatives, aged them, and kept that imagined appearance in my mind as I wrote their story. One of the characters, Kristina Grisseljon, is the mother of my protagonists, Sylvia Thorn and Willie Grisseljon. She was briefly in the first novel of the series and is not modeled after a real person.
Linda Swayble, one of the Flippers, is named after my sister-in-law Linda, who sadly passed away just before the book was released. I added about fifteen years to her age, exaggerated a couple of her most endearing personality traits, and then expanded her bio, description, and speech mannerisms. When I dumped her into the novel, the fictional Linda was full of surprises--a first-class worrier and way more timid than I expected.
Marianne, Gail, and Diane were named after my cousins, sisters in real life. I've assured the cousins I will let everyone know my Flippers' characters and behavior are drawn completely from my imagination. For instance, red-haired cowgirl wannabe Marianne, who line dances with the sexy cowboys at a country bar in Davie, Florida, and plays Blackjack in Laughlin, Nevada, is actually a lovely white-haired grandma and first-grade schoolteacher in Oklahoma. She does not, to the best of my knowledge, wear cowboy boots.
Similarly, the real Gail would never kick anyone with her orthopedic boots, unless he truly deserved it. Cousin Diane, my first reader for all of my manuscripts, did not really win the lottery and does not live in The Sanctuary in Boca Raton, Florida.
Using real people to create characters in a novel has certain risks, of course. I wasn't thinking of real people while writing about the killers and victims in these mysteries. Although . . . someone who knew me in high school thought I was very tough on old boyfriends in The Prairie Grass Murders. But those were Sylvia Thorn's old boyfriends, not mine. Totally imaginary. Honest.
Have you ever used a real person as a model when writing a fictional character? Did you let your real person model read the manuscript?
|Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).|