Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Andy Allo – Prince protege and certified bringer of funk in the spirit of all the great multi-instrumental/multi-ethnic soul and funk bands that emerged from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
But why is Ms. Allo here today? Not simply because she smokes behind the mic and on the guitar, but because she’s become something of an inspiration.
I would imagine it’s a varied experience for all authors when they start casting around for information to inform their characters. For me in creating the world and characters of Immaculate Deception, it was a combination of pulling details, physical traits and elements of personality from people I have known or crossed paths with, then either piling on absurd, over-the-top embellishments or mixing and matching in ways that few of the individuals who did inspire me would ever recognize.
That’s happening to a certain extent with my next (as yet untitled) novel, which I suppose we’ll just refer to as “TBD” (for “to be determined”) for now. I knew I wanted a character who had a certain look, attitude, outlook on the world and way of carrying herself to work as a foil to my main character. She needed to be significantly different, but no so much as to be absolutely alien.
Most of all, I knew two specific things about her – she would be African-American and she would have, for lack of a better explanation, this hair. It needed to be natural, but unusual – an explosion of curls that served as an immediate calling card to anyone who saw her.
But who to tap for the image? I had personality elements galore stowed away from 45 years of life working with and living among a broad spectrum of women of all complexions and ethnic derivations, but I had no visual hook on which to hang this character’s distinctive look.
Then I saw a bank commercial. Specifically, it was a Wells Fargo commercial telling the story of how a young female musician works toward success with the financial backing of WF, presumably by extending her a high-interest credit card for band equipment and gas for the van.
I saw her and knew she was the one. A little Internet research later, and I realized the beautiful musician wasn’t an actress but was indeed a real performer, and her name is Andy Allo, and that she’s been known to hang with and perform alongside none other than the Little Purple One himself. Since then, I’ve caught YouTube clips of her performing on late night talk shows and have viewed the above video more times than I should probably mention.
That’s about all I’m prepared to reveal about the character herself (she’s got a ways to go in the narrative just yet), but my point in this post is not “Hey, here’s what my character will look like,” but to let you know that characters come from anywhere.
Sometimes I think young or inexperienced writers feel compelled to create their characters out of whole cloth, like they were God patting together Adam and Eve from clay and ribs.
I’d say that’s taking the utterly incorrect path. Characters in novels are less Adam and Eve and more Frankenstein’s monster – bits and pieces of lots of different people – their looks and outlooks – sewn together and brought to life for your own literary purposes.
The job of the writer is to pay attention as he or she goes through life and add those parts to a mental, physical or digital file that will serve as a later resource when it comes time to put the monster together on the slab, as it were, then pull the lever that funnels the lightning bolt to its brain and gives it life.
As the narrative of TBD goes forward, I’ll be spending more and more time mulling the character over, adding those bits and pieces of women I’ve known, their mannerisms and attitudes and manners of speech, until she gradually takes shape and becomes a person who’s wholly unrecognizable from much of the source material, but who proudly stands on her own.
But when I think of how she looks, I’ll be keeping the image of Ms. Allo at the front of my brain (and seeing her at the drive-through, as WF is also my bank) and letting that inspire me in leading the character down the path she’ll eventually take.
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