Last night as I lounged on my in-laws’ couch half-heartedly revising the beginning of the first chapter of my newest novel while the TV blared some CSI spin-off, Margaret asked me in a typically Minnesotan fashion where my ideas came from. “How do you think up all that stuff? Well," she answered herself, "I suppose it comes from your life.”
“Yah,” I said, in the traditional Midwestern way. “It does and it doesn’t.”
We’ve talked about where ideas come from before on this blog, so, instead, I wanted to comment on what Kelly brought up about real vs. realistic. Because part of my answer to Margaret was, “Well, you know, a lot of what I write is fantasy. It’s not something I could experience, even if I wanted to. I have to make that stuff up completely.”
Probably, if it were not nearly eleven o’clock in the evening, I would have tried to answer Margaret more completely.
So I understand what Kelly is saying about the joy of writing characters larger than life. After all, Harry coined the idea of a “Babe-onic plague” for why all the people (particularly the men) in my novels are ruggedly handsome. It’s like Garrison Keillor says about the people of Lake Wobegon, “All the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average.” When someone confronted me about it, I said, “Hey, listen, this is a fantasy novel and a world populated by hotties are *my* damn fantasy.”
There are very few people in my real life as good-looking (or as available) as those in my novels.
Plus, the nature of speculative fiction often requires somewhat larger-than-life characters. Vampires and, as in Kelly’s WebMage the children of Greek gods, aren’t likely to be typical, bumbling humans.
However, and here’s where I’ll respectfully disagree with Mr. McCullough, I most enjoy reading and writing about humans who interact with these supernatural/metahumans. Kelly and I have joked in the past that he prefers to write about the superhero and I write about the superhero’s girlfriend. And, it’s true, and this is where my conversation connects to the one I was having with my step-mother in-law. I tend to write with questions in mind like, “How would I respond to realizing that guy I’ve been chatting with at the coffee shop after hours is really, and for true, a werewolf” or “What if there was incontrovertible proof that my next-door neighbor was a space alien?” (Which, actually, I have often suspected.)
For me, as I’ve suggested on my own blog, this is a sneaky way for me to continue to play pretend as an adult. I can do a little Mary Sueing, though I always write characters which are more not-me, than me.
Although you could argue that many of Garnet’s personality traits are mine. Certainly, I like to infuse her with some of own "dorkiness,” if you will. Characters who can be silly and vulnerable tend to garner my sympathy when I read them in other people’s work, so I cultivate those traits in my own.
Even when I was a RPGer, I tended to enjoy those moments when my characters were stupid. One of my favorite campaigns happens when our GM decided to use the “fumble chart” to read off the things characters could accidentally do when they’d rolled a score so low as to actually be harmful to themselves or others. My character, Fred the Wood Elf, got quite the reputation as “friendly fire” that week. For me (and I think the other gamers), that totally made that campaign fun and memorable… much more than the ones where we were all brave and heroic and full of f33rsome skillz.
My characters tend to be idiots, because I'm an idiot.