Thursday, August 18

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, August 18, 2016 4 comments
Photo by Gabor from Hungary /
Characters can be found in all sorts of places--among our families, friends, acquaintances, even strangers on the train. Yet we never borrow traits without tinging them with our own interpretation of those we observe and mixing in bits and pieces of our own imagination.

In other words, every character, even those you base on real people, have some of you in them.

I'll give you an example. The poem below I'd written as a sort of tribute to some of the ordinary yet extraordinary boys whose friendship I'd cherished in childhood.


My friend Gilbert
had the kind of face
you see on milk cartons
on rainy Thursday mornings
that puddle in your brain
without a grain of sense
or purpose but dripdrip drip.

Gil played games
that brought down bullies
to no-longer-larger-than-life lugs
we could look in the eye
and not cringe.

Gil's games
made emperors of roaches
and elf queens of
bucktoothed, freckled girls
who are good at math
and can't sing.

Gil thought thoughts
that entered me like garlic
and permeated blood
and lungs and skin,
reeking and lusty of life,
lingering in the pores
for days.

Laurel Garver, Muddy-Fingered Midnights p. 8. 

This fictional friend's name is, of course, an homage to Gilbert Blythe from L.M. Montgomery's Green Gables books.

Some of the details are bits and pieces of Duane, who lived next to the awesome graveyard and let me be Bionic Wonder Woman to his Bionic Batman. And also Billy, who was willing to be Pa from Little House on the Prairie. And finally Brad, who agreed that the monkeybars was totally a spaceship, and storing gobs of maple seeds for our fort's winter food supply was a dire necessity. These boys were kinder than average--and willing to give anyone a shot at joining the imaginative game of the moment.

But to be honest, I was usually the one who came up with most of the ideas when we played. You might say Gilbert is the kid I wish I'd been--imaginative, sure, but also the kind of leader who brings people together by drawing out their best selves gently and naturally.

When you build a hero or a villain, you will (mostly unconsciously) add pieces of yourself to the mix--what you admire and aspire to, what you find most loathsome, and at times even parts of yourself you most want to heal or change. This is the aspect of writing that some consider therapeutic or even mystical.

What aspects of yourself have you been surprised to discover coming out in your characters?


  1. I love this! I have found it to be so true. All of my characters have a little bit of me in them. And it is amazingly therapeutic. Thanks for your post! (And Gilbert Blythe forever!)

    1. Thanks, Janet. I got thinking about this while writing up an author interview in which I was asked which character is most like me. The truth is, they are all themselves with pieces of me in them. Good guys, bad guys, random cashiers with one spoken line--all are coming from my understanding of human nature, thus all are Laurel-inflected. It's unavoidable, I think. And glad to know you're also a Gilbert Blythe fan. :-)

  2. I noticed that too, about my characters. Especially the hero's (even the males) but sometimes the villains too. I guess we all have a little bit of devil in us :)

  3. Our heroes tend to reflect what we think of as heroic, which often won't be Disney's idea exactly, will it?

    We were discussing on Facebook how antagonists can be wish fulfillment characters--they often act out all the mean things you'd love to do if you didn't have to suffer the consequences. Yet again, writing fiction saves lives! LOL.