Like most authors, I imagine, I don’t base characters on people I know. Instead, when I read through something I’ve written, I find aspects of ME in all my characters. My successes, failures, hopes, flaws, faith, and insecurities are all split in really crazy ways among my community of “false folk” than I could ever have realized before actually writing a novel. Except–and this is the weird thing–all my characters are cooler than me. Way cooler. As in, I’m not even close.
Well, all the good guys are cooler than me. I don’t think that’s anything unique, but it’s definitely true. Even some of the bad guys, I’d say, are cooler than me as well. Malzin’s calm and collected in a way I could NEVER be. She stands up to misogynist jerks and doesn’t take guff from anyone, and I find that impressive on some level. I can’t say I’ve ever stood up to a misogynist jerk that way.
But I digress.
I’d be surprised if there are many writers–especially fantasy writers like me–who would say their characters don’t ooze “COOL” from every pore, to a point that far exceeds their own “cool” factors. And I think that has a lot to do with how we, as humans, use story.
We use story to make sense of the world and to explore the questions of who we are and what we value. The things we consider virtuous–courage, sacrifice, forgiveness, perseverance, pluck–we magnify, so we can make sure the listeners/readers get a clear image of what we mean to convey. The same goes for the things we view in a negative light. We make them bigger to show how nasty they really are.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that characters are stiff and stale, all bad or all good. Only fairy tales can get away with that. In fantasy literature, we put characters in extreme, life-or-death situations, and that’s usually enough to shed light on the importance of ethics in our lives. Would I have the courage to stand up to a powerful foe–one much more powerful than me–in the name of something I knew was right? How would I respond to a major betrayal from someone I trusted? These are questions worth pondering, and there’s value in considering someone who might have the strength I doubt I’d have to hold together in a tough situation, even if that person isn’t real. I may not be a sorceress, but how do I use/abuse the talents I do have? My characters, whom I admire and whom I wish I could be more like, help me realize the kind of person I want to me, and help me strive to be that woman to the greatest degree I can.
I guess I am in a philosophical mood at the moment. But honestly, don’t ever let someone make you think literature’s worthless, or that reading is a waste of team. Reading helps us discover who we are.