February 11, 2011

Role Models in Writing

I know what you're thinking--and you're wrong. This post isn't going to be about great writers to pattern yourselves and your writing after. This post is about role models to pattern your characters after.
Now, I'm not talking about copying other writers' already-developed characters or basing all of your fictional characters on real people. Both of those plans are recipes for big-time legal trouble. What I'm talking about is learning from example what people in certain roles or circumstances are really like, and basing your characters on those true-to-life facts.
The idea dawned on me this week while I was snowed in after last week's blizzard (and to think--I used to fantasize about living in the Arctic. I'm officially over that now!). Since going outside wasn't an option, I spent an unseemly number of hours sitting in front of the fireplace watching episodes of Combat!, a '60s TV series about WWII (fabulous show, if any of you need something good to watch).
How, you may wonder, does this pertain even remotely to the work of a fantasy writer? Well, I'll tell you. Several of the central characters in my novel-in-progress are very high-ranking military leaders. To be honest, I've had trouble writing characters who are down-to-earth and humble while still maintaining and exercising their authority--and doing it all convincingly. My characters seem to be either all humility and no authority, or all authority and no humility. Where is the balance? How does a man exercise his authority without 'lording it over' the other characters?
Those questions weren't even at the forefront of my mid this week while I was watching Combat!. But as I watched the main characters (a Second Lieutenant and a Sergeant) interacting with the men under them and with the officers ranking over them, and developing a tentative friendship in spite of their differing ranks, my problem with my leader characters suddenly came to mind. "Oh..." I thought, "So that's how they do it!"
While their personalities were completely different from those of my characters, the characters of Combat! demonstrated the balance of authority vs. humility and friendship vs. getting the job done that I was looking for in my characters.
So now I'm thinking--if it worked in that circumstance, it would work in another. Having trouble developing a convincing character in a position you don't know a great deal about? Find characters (real or fictional) in a similar position and learn how they do it, what it's really like.
What are your thoughts? Have you used a similar formula to develop your characters, or do you have a completely different method?


  1. I love that type. I can't think of any specific examples right now, except one that happened in reverse. I started writing a story, and then a few months later came across another character with very similar traits....

  2. A lot of some of my favorite writing that I've done is based off of real-life events, to some degree or another, whether a conversation, or some adventure I had...
    But yes, it is so helpful to have real-life things to model characters, especially struggles, after. I find a lot of my characters struggle with the same things as me. I wonder why...


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