Writing is a lot like making a baby. Sometimes, it takes everything to get to the point of conception, and sometimes you don’t even remember having sex that night, but somehow a baby was conceived. Either way it all begins with a tiny seed that is planted in your heart (or your brain if that’s how you’re wired).
Even before conception, the image of your child is already materializing: “He’ll have my eyes, my husband’s lips, and hopefully not Uncle John’s nose…” In anticipation, a parent is creating a composite baby in their mind. It’s the same for writers. We envision different blends of traits, strengths and weaknesses for our characters.
‘Composite Character’ is a term I was certain I had invented, right up until I looked it up on Wikipedia. What I found was that I had been intuitively using a process that many writers and filmmakers have done forever - take two or more people from real life or experiences or even history, and meld them into one quirky, interesting person with the capability of being both deeply flawed (as most great characters are) and relatable. It was another case of my inventing something that somebody else had already invented (insert travel hammock, swinging screen door for sliders, the instant ballerina-bun maker).
The strange thing is that I can’t tell if my characters begin to remind me of someone who then creeps into my head as I write, or if there is already a person in my head whose traits have crept into my character. Anyone who knows me may have guessed that there’s probably more people in my head than is considered healthy. Whatever the reason, my characters tend to take on a lot of personality traits – like snowballs down a mountainside – as their stories progress.
I'm more aware of it when I'm writing screenplays. It's easier to have an actor to visualize as the script unfolds. And why wouldn’t an actress like Julianna Moore (with a little Diane Keaton thrown in) want to play the part of Grace Mitchell, a forty-nine-year-old author who has just written a successful self-help book decrying America’s obsession with youth, but stands to lose everything when she finds herself pregnant by a thirty-eight-year-old plastic surgeon? Great plot, right? (An Inconvenient Miracle is available for option if you happen to be a successful movie producer).
Anyway, back to these mixed-up characters of mine. What I came to realize was that my psychiatrist had been wrong; the voices in my head were a good thing. Working with the public, being part of a large family, inheriting a natural love of human interaction from both my mother and my father gave me a lifetime’s worth of crazy, loveable parts and pieces to choose from when writing. This mental/multi-tasking/ADD portion of my brain was finally paying off! On top of that, I found a great app that allowed me to see my combos by physically blending people.