When writing fiction, I find it helpful to have pictures of my characters to inspire me. I used to find pictures in magazines, but in magazines, you tend to find the “pretty people”. The perfect, model-y people. My characters rarely look perfect; they look more like you and me. With the Internet, there are many ways to find pictures of Real People, and finding them can change everything.
Let me address the creepiness factor first. My picture’s on Facebook. It’s on MySpace. It used to be on Internet dating sites, which is how I met John. It’s probably on a bunch of other sites I can’t even remember uploading it to. I’ve chosen to make my picture public, and I realize that some writer somewhere might someday decide I look like his or her character and print my photo as inspiration. As long as that person doesn’t share my picture by commercial means, what do I care? I’m hoping the people I find on the Internet don’t mind being my inspiration as well.
So how do I find my characters? I search any of the many social networking sites available on the web, looking for say, my 38-year-old character Ellen who lives in Greensboro, NC. Through search filters, I’ll look for a woman Ellen’s age who lives in or near Greensboro. I’ll find one who strikes me as my Ellen and print out her image to keep near my computer as I work. Her profile or those of other women her age in Greensboro, will help me see what activities my character might enjoy in that region.
Ironically, although I start out looking for a photo of a person who resembles my character, the photo itself often makes me change my character, sometimes dramatically. Let’s look at the picture in this blog, (I must quickly point out that this photo is not from a social networking site, but purchased through istock.com, which is where I often find my blog photos.) I see things in this woman’s face that I never imagined in Ellen’s. She’s beautiful, but she looks a little tired, don’t you think? She cares about her grooming (check out those eyebrows!) She has a little bit of modern-day hippie in her (the earrings). There’s something hard in her face–she’s tougher than I thought Ellen would be, and more determined. My character Ellen is up for a job against some much younger candidates, and the woman in this photo knows her age is showing and she’s not sure what to do about it.
See what I mean? I’m not writing about a character named Ellen right now (Ellen is a fictional fictional character. Ha!). But I am writing about a group of women in Wilmington, NC and my desk is littered with “their” pictures. I printed them all out a couple of days ago and as they came out of my printer, they became more real, with dimensions I never knew they possessed.
Next, I’ll find their homes on Realtor.com and their neighborhoods on the absolutely frighteningly invasive “street view” feature on Googlemaps.com. But their story? The only place I can find that is in my imagination, and that site is slow!