Where Do Writers Find Their Inspiration?

Creating Characters

David Pearce writes about how he found the inspiration for two of his characters.

Have you ever wondered how authors invent the characters that you read about in your favourite books? I hadn’t really thought about it until I read the first few chapters of Sophia Bennett’s soon to be published novel ‘The Look’. One of the characters is a University lecturer who has lost his job and is trying to become a writer even though he isn’t really any good. I thought this sounded like me, so I asked Sophia about this character on Twitter and she said that the character was based on herself!

Of course, any writer will use their own family, friends and themselves as the basis for characters in the books they write. (That’s why you often find similar characters in every book by your favourite authors.) I did the same for my novel ‘The Girl on the Train’ for most of the characters. However, the two central characters of Holly and Bobby didn’t spring from my imagination, and they weren’t they based on anyone I knew. They quite literally appeared in front of me!

I wrote my first, unpublished, novel while I was travelling up to London by train to teach in a Language school. One morning I found myself sitting across from two girls in very distinctive blue blazers. They immediately interested me because the younger girl was small and blonde and probably in Year 8, while the older girl was a brunette probably in Year 10. I found out that they weren’t sisters, just two girls going to the same school. However, they were quite clearly very close despite the difference in age and attitude. I asked myself the obvious question to a writer. Why? I picked up my pen and wrote a quick character sketch of each girl and within fifteen minutes I had the basic story of my novel. Over the next few months I saw them quite often on the train and I started to change their characters as I found out more about them. That happens a lot when you’re a writer. Some of the comments and incidents that appear in my novel are lifted straight from those journeys. The following school year I saw the older girl travelling to school on her own, looking subdued and obviously missing the fun she used to have with her friend, and the end of my novel pretty much wrote itself.

Whilst the two girls have probably now left school, and are in work or university, they will always be the two main characters from my first novel.

You can read more about David’s book, The Girl on the Train, here

9 Responses to Where Do Writers Find Their Inspiration?

  1. Jean Cross says:

    Really enjoyed reading about how your characters just appeared in front of you! I too find that observing people can be so rewarding. I love to sit in an airport and just soak up the coming and goings.

  2. Thank you for that, Jean. Glad you enjoyed the article. Actually its the only time it’s happened to me so far! Maybe I wouldn’t even have registered the dynamic between the two if I wasn’t looking for an idea for a new story! I guess it sometimes happens that way. I get ideas for situations from real life quite often and most of my books are based around places I know very well. Do you sit at airports for research or are you actually jetting off somewhere!

  3. It’s quite amazing where our ideas come from. The main character of my MG series is based on an actual person, where the rest of the characters are completely fictional. But it was great having a MC I knew on a personal level. I could throw them into any situation and know exactly how they would react, what they would do and what they would say. It’s the only time I’ve ever used a real person, but I guess most of our characters have traits from our real life experiences.

    Great post 🙂

  4. I have tried to invent characters from scratch, and had varying degrees of success doing so. However, the best characters to write for are those who are thinly disguised versions of people I know. They just seem more real to me in their reactions to the events in my books.

  5. Just letting everyone know The Girl on the Train is free this weekend 4th/5th February. If you give it a try let me know what you think please.

  6. Kea Alwang says:

    It sounds sort of hokey, but mine came to me in a dream as a kid. The idea of them never really left!

  7. Jemima Pett says:

    I always struggled to find my characters which is why I didn’t manage to write fiction till a few years ago. My stories are inspired by my guinea pigs. They have very definite characters! Their world and adventures are pure invention. Except that somehow, as you write, the characters do things of their own accord, quite unexpectedly. The writer just has to go with the flow till (s)he finds out what happens next!

  8. @Kea – I often think about my characters as I’m falling to sleep but I’ve never dreamt of them – yet. However they come to you, I don’t think they ever really leave you.

    @Jemima – I have to admit I’ve never been inspired by gerbils LOL. I agree though that characters sometimes have a (nasty) habit of going their own sweet way. Zagroz -the bad guy in Chamaeleon: The Secret Spy – refused to be killed off and I had to find some other way for my hero, Kel, to defeat him. In the end, I think the story is stronger because of it – it’s certainly less of a cliche.

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