How thrilling it was meeting my fictional character in real life. I’ve never imagined I would be so lucky as to have an actual person to model a character on. Especially after I had completed writing the book he appears in.
On my recent return back to Auckland after visiting my mother in Southland, I noticed a man boarding the plane in Invercargill with very long dreaded hair. The male character in my latest story, tentatively entitled “Return to Riversleigh” has dreads and I kicked myself for not paying closer attention to this man to ensure my facts about Luke’s hair was believable. I kept an eye out for him in Christchurch where I changed planes but didn’t see him anywhere so guessed I’d lost my chance.
Oh well, too bad. But that’s what the internet is for, to check such things while researching – or in my case its usually done during my editing process. How writers managed all their research before the internet astounds me.
I took my time boarding the plane to Auckland as I had an aisle seat. I couldnt believe my luck when I got settled to find the dreadlocked gentleman immediately across the aisle from me. Not only did his hair look exactly as I envisioned for Luke, but this guy appeared to also fit the personality I’ve attributed to my character. We struck up a conversation during the flight and indeed, I felt like Luke had come to life. So interesting was this guy, if I’d had my camera with me instead of in my checked luggage, I think I would have had the nerve to ask permission to take his photo. Alas, for a techno phobic like me who doesn’t own a smart phone, that option wasn’t open to me.
As well as amazing dreads, which he said were about twelve years old, this guy had a mustache and a scraggly goatee. As we talked, I began to wonder if Luke also needed facial hair. How many guys would be likely to have dreads but would shave every day? It set me wondering and I think I’ve decided I need to add those features to Luke. Oh damn, that means even more editing. I can’t have any kissing without the sensation of hair on his chin or upper lip.
When asked where I dig up my characters from, there is no easy answer. I pick features or personality traits from people I know, people I’ve met or seen, or even read about elsewhere. But they’re always a mixture of people. I don’t ever want anyone to pick up one of my stories and decide I’ve written about them. Facets of their own characters, yes, but it has never been my intention to use one person as a guide to a character of mine. Until today.
“Luke” has taken on a completely new persona in my mind. When I look at him, hear him speak, watch his movements, I will be remembering what I saw from this man on the aeroplane. If “Return to Riversleigh” gets contracted for publication, I will have to remember to dedicate it to a stranger on an aeroplane.