Readers and writers often wonder how a story or character is developed by an author. Not all writers write or create the same way. In a recent interview Maria Hyland took the opportunity to discuss the character development in her latest book Carry Me Down. Specifically, she was asked, How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?
Maria Hyland: It is impossible to answer the question, ‘Where do your characters come from?’ If I could answer this question, my job would be an easier one. Besides hard work, the day-to-day of slogging it out, there is, ultimately, a great and necessary mystery involved in the writing of fiction. And even when the writing process is not mysterious, it is almost impossible to describe. But I will endeavour, here, to tell you a little of the process of writing Carry Me Down.
John Egan, the main character in Carry Me Down, began as a man on the eve of his 40th birthday. He was on an aeroplane (I like aeroplanes) and he was terrified of flying. He gripped his seat and remembered the story of Batouti, a pilot who committed suicide by losing control of his 747 passenger aircraft at 38,000,000 feet; killing all on board (I am interested in aeroplane crashes).
John Egan was in an aeroplane because he was on his way to the BBC in London to record a live demonstration of his gift for lie detection (I am fascinated by lie detection).
Much later, I wrote a flash-back scene, and John Egan became the child; the perverse, strange, sad and sometimes mad character that he became. And so, I began with an idea and surrounded the idea with a few good things that interest me.
I posed a question: What would happen if somebody was, or believed he was, a human lie detector? I put my nervous character on an aeroplane and began to write, but it took me three years to come anywhere near a satisfactory answer. By the end of writing, the aeroplane was gone, John Egan was 12, and the Guinness Book of World Records had become a dominant feature.
I write about things that interest me, but I don’t write about myself, not directly; not in any true autobiographical sense. I write, instead, about things that concern me. And so, while not directly autobiographical, my obsessions, preoccupations, fears and fantasies are rampant in my fiction.
But the characters are neither me nor anybody I have known. I would never use somebody I know as fodder in fiction. I will never, and have never, used my family or my friends for fictional stuffing.
I am reluctant, even, to use stories that people tell me. I recently wanted to use a true story told by a friend. I wrote a long letter to that friend and asked for her permission to use it. She gave it.
My interview with Maria Hyland was originally published 10/16/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.