Monday, January 23, 2012

The Birth of Characters

When I start to plot out a story, I usually have a pretty good idea the personality of my characters. Their names are thought out, and in my mind fit physical characteristics. As I move through the developing stages, small quirks appear, making them more likable and sometimes not so much.
I’ve been asked more times than I can count, “Where do you get your ideas for stories?”  
They often come from real life. My new release came from my past.  
My recent book, due out in February, She Cried Wolf, the bad guy was born before my hero and heroine. I built my story around him. He came to life on a warm fall day as I sat at a stop light at a busy intersection. The little crossing man blinked and he stepped off the curb right into my line of sight, walking past my car. The slumped lumbering walk and slanted furrowed brows slammed into my memory unexpectedly. I recognized him immediately and held my breath. He looked into my car with ice blue pale eyes that didn’t register my existence. A shudder drove right up my spin, as I waited for him to pass, and the light to change. My hands were in a death grip on the steering wheel. I had my grandkids in the car, and was grateful for the habit of locking the doors as soon as the seatbelts click. They were chattering away in the backseat unaware of what I just witnessed. They were finishing up the rest of their cones from the ice cream shop. The experience left me momentarily dazed and shaken as their happy voices drifted into a long tunnel.
I worked in law enforcement for over twenty years, retiring six years ago, to a quiet life of grandchildren and writing. I left behind the violence I had witnessed and experienced. I’m left with reminders of those days on cold damp mornings when old injuries remind me. On that warm sparkling fall day, I was reminded again of my past life. The man in question, I had arrested and dealt with numerous times throughout my career. He aggressively fought every arrest, which usually ended with numerous personal threats against me and my family. The last time I saw him, he was booked into jail on parole violations, at which time he threatened to wipe out my gene pool. That afternoon, my gene pool sat behind me, innocently teasing each other.
The sight of him kept nagging at me. I doubted he recognized me. In the ten years since I last saw him, I had changed with weight and hair color. He had only aged. I noticed as he crossed the street, he was lips moved in a muttering fashion, and his clothes were disheveled. He carried a backpack. My first guess he was homeless. My second guess, his mental illness had progressed, taking him into the situation in which he lived.
 In the following days one of my main characters for my story was born. I didn’t use the situation where I knew the individual. Instead I used the moment I saw him crossing the street. I worked with victims of stalkers and saw firsthand how it alters their lives. I imagined the terror of seeing the perpetrator cross the street in front of their vehicle on a warm sunny day after so many years. My story gave birth.
From there, I developed my bad guy and why he had never forgot and found the innocent woman he stalked years before. The story was there, but I didn’t have a heroine yet. I named her after my mother’s favorite aunt, before I gave her life in description. Then the hero and how he would enter into the heroine’s world. I decided he was her contractor and friend, the only person who believed she saw her tormentor after so long.  I named him for my grandson’s best-friend in school, Rio. I loved the name and it so suited my hero.
From there the story took off like a bullet. Everything meshed together. I could describe my bad guy down to the finest details, because I knew him. I took this story and put it in San Francisco. Having lived and worked in area for forty years.
It’s strange how stories come to us at unexpected moments. Although, when I saw him, I didn’t have any idea I’d write about those feelings. I just wanted to get off the street with my precious cargo. But the incident stayed with me. Like so many authors, I drew from the experience and created, She Cried Wolf. The idea behind the concept followed when I told my husband about what I saw, and he questioned if I’d recognize him. Bam, another idea was born. What if a woman who had been stalked had imagined sightings of her stalker over the years, to the point when she really saw him, no one believed her.
I’ve taken all the concepts and put them together, and I had a my story of Irene Carlotti, when she sees the man who kidnapped, tortured and rapped her thirty years ago. She has no alias to assist her, accept in one person her contractor, Rio DeJesus a retired FBI agent.
An entire story born out of a moment of fear from the past.

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