On a good day I can’t remember where I parked my car or where my sunglasses are, but on most days, I can’t remember the names of my characters or even what they look like.
“But, MK,” you say — and every time you do, I think of the cartoon Darkwing Duck and how I always wanted to be called Dee-Dubya when I was a kid, and have a friend like Lauchpad, but as it is, it just sort of sounds like you’re saying m’kay in order to shut up a pestering kid and none of my friends are that heart-rufflingly clueless — “you created them. Shouldn’t you take a little responsibility and at least remember their names?”
“No,” I respond — deciding to think of you like how my nerd-o-vision interprets Joss Whedon, that is to say, looking somewhat as a cross between Xander Season 2 and Cap’n Mal instead of his pasty, slightly balding creepophile actual self — “because it really doesn’t matter.”
And that isn’t a nihilistic or self-loathing existentialist “doesn’t matter,” but to me, I could care less how a character looks, or what they’re wearing, eating, doing, or even what everything around them looks like. Sure, it’s important to Gwennie if she’s in the forest or a town — symbolism and all that, what have you, indeed, yes, hmm, quite — but I don’t really care if that forest has pine trees or deciduous ones, or if that town has a population 2,500 or 250,000. It’s a there-are-more-things-in-heaven-and-earth-type of “doesn’t matter.” Relationships between people, how they act, why they act the way they do — oh, man, do I ever hate the word “why” — are what I believe drive a good, dramatic, page-turning, you-paid-for-the-whole-seat-but-you’ll-just-need-the-edge type of novel I want to read and therefore am writing.
This is another fine-balancing act — much like polyphony, or Mr. Eco’s dilemma — between being descriptive versus just racking* the pages up because I made a deal with my agent to be paid by the word. Here’s looking at you, Mr. Charles “The Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Three” Dickens. I don’t dislike authors for being really, really on point in trying to make their novels as realistic as possible, even going so far as to chart individual street names and research specific trade routes for countries in the 11th century so that a character can etch out a real-life route to work or have an incredibly detailed background in ship-mastery as possible, but it does annoy me because I don’t feel it to be necessary. It’s not my job as an author to spell everything out for you — well, literally yes, but I’m a figurative person….if you know what I mean — and I’d much rather have some buffer zones for people to imagine for themselves what Gwennie’s dark and dismal forest looks like. A kind of buffer zone not unlike the ones that heated up the Cold War.
I digress, however, in that in order to maintain at least a semblance of control over my characters and not allow them to run slip-shod throughout my brain like little Tinkerbells with ink on their feet, I needed to create a handy system of classification so Ann — resident goody-goody and all-around citadel of Gwennie’s humanity in the first half of my novel — doesn’t have brown hair in one scene and red hair in the next.
I started imagining my characters as famous people. This isn’t a “who would play so-and-so in a movie version” type of situation, but rather a “I think Doc looks kind of looks like Uncle Joey from Full House.”
Sometimes it just comes to be, unbidden, like a neighbor’s cat dragging a mouse to show it loves you. Sometimes, I have to make a stretch, like when I hadn’t read the assigned 250 pages of The Brothers Karamazov and had to extrapolate my knowledge of Dostoevsky and say that, of course Smerdyakov, as a bastard Karamazov, completely personifies the absurdish, carnivalesque feeling the best out of all three brothers because he’s the closest in disposition to Fyodor, and because his name means to smell icky. True story.
I also can’t say with any certainty why I get certain faces associated with characters — the whole Doc/Uncle Joey thing remains, to this day, a complete mystery to me — but it helps to keep the inconsistencies to a low.
As it is, Gwennie looks like me because she’s based off of the type of person I would want to be —
a serial killer independent, snarky and sarcastic, completely bad-ass — and Ann looks like Amy Acker because I love Ms. Acker to bits. Andrew — main antagonist and favorite character — looks like Keanu Reeves for much the same logic as the Doc/Uncle Joey combo.
The only character that I purposefully modeled after a famous person is Nathaniel and he looks like Robert Pattinson. Why? Because my little pet name for Nathaniel is the Flying Douche-Canoe. He is my least favorite character. I have made a mental note to myself to kill him off in the most horribly disgusting and painful way possible.
And maybe one day, when my looks have faded, I’ll give little character bios so y’all can see how personalities match with how they look in my head. As it is, this post is already entirely too long.
*I wrote this as “wracking” before editing it. Freudian slip.