Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Character studies

 Tucson AZ 1/16/14 taken by Farm Boss looking west

From where do writers get their ideas for their characters? I'm sure the answers are as varied as the writers; but one thing is true where it comes to character development-- nothing is stranger than real life. To create unique and challenging characters doesn't take more than reading newspapers. Sometimes you find a true story of what someone did and think-- readers would never believe that in a novel.


Linda Taylor is certainly one example presented in that detailed study, but there are lots more and not just in more or less modern times. Human nature is complex. Hero or villain.

In Oregon history such a complex woman was Margaret Bailey. She didn't fit the norms that are so tidy for how some want to see women from our pioneer days. She was a bit of an adventurer as well as unconventional. She is one of Oregon's first authors as she tried to sugarcoat her life in what was purported to be a novel but was in actuality mostly her own memoir (got the story of her from my daughter, the archaeologist).


Awhile back, I was dinged in a review for one of my historicals, Arizona Sunset, because I had a heroine, looking for adventure and willing to marry a man she planned to divorce. This heroine had thought her situation through and decided being a fallen woman was how she could avoid the cultural requirements for women of her time. Now it didn't work out as she planned-- life has a way of doing that also.

The funny part is, for that book, if I'd written that the woman had been abused by someone and frightened into marrying for safety-- that likely would have made it okay-- because it fit the stereotypes. I cannot know this for sure, but I would guess the reviewer got her idea of pioneer women from romance novels and movies. If she had had stories in her family, as I have in mine, of women going off on their own to mine for gold, she'd have seen more options for what a character might be like.

When I think of the strength of the Suffragettes, who stood up for women's right to vote and what they had to go through before they were able to convince the ones in power to give up a piece of it, you see very independently-minded women.

Ranch women also tended to be that way as back then husbands and fathers often went off to war or even those gold mines and left their wives to take care of the homestead. They were a lot tougher than some today might imagine.

Certainly cultures do make a difference as to what options men or women will have. But always there are those within each culture who strike out for their rights. Sometimes they get killed for it; but sometimes they win. When they do, I think the culture is ahead that those in power had to adjust to changing mores.

To write any story, contemporary or historical, it pays to read newspapers, memoirs and biographies as you get a feel for the vast array of human natures. Then you can bring it back to your own stories with a new creation but one based on humans-- not stereotypes. Of course, then comes the question-- do readers prefer the stereotype to reality?

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