Monday, August 27, 2007

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I'd always heard that statement my entire life and wondered why it was so - until I became a writer. Then I realized that fiction had to make more sense than real life....had to be more believable. The characters had to have proper motivation for their actions, even the ones that were silly or stupid. That's why it's so hard to use real people as a basis for characters in a book.

Now, have I done it - sure. I've used people I've known as a loose basis for characters - some of their more interesting behavoirs, perhaps their professions. But it's never exactly the same and so far, I've never been able to do it with the hero/heroine. Strange, out-of-the-ordinary secondary characters seem to fit the bill much better. While critiquing my next release, UNLUCKY, one of my cp's remarked that I had the most fun characters and she simply didn't know how I came up with them. Then she went on to say that Father Thomas (whom I hope you'll all be reading about in Oct/Nov) was one of them. I just laughed and said "Oh, I used to play golf with Father Thomas." Of course, he wasn't called Father Thomas, and he wasn't Catholic (like in my book), but he was a lot like the character in question, and his outrageous behavoir stuck in my mind all these years and he became a secondary character in my books.

As writers, I believe we're always on the lookout for great secondary character - that person whose mind just works in a different direction than most but for reasons quite obviously logical to them. They are a gold mine. The trick is figuring out how to incorporate them into your story. Take this true story for a minute of a guy I ran into on a flight from Houston to Dallas. Mind you, this is a short hop - the in flight time is less than an hour.

I was sitting in that row of three seats that faces backwards, looking at another row of three seats. Five of us were already in place (I had the window seat) and the seat next to me was the only empty one. I was chatting with the girl across from me, who was also from Dallas, and was very nice and pleasant. The man next to her was reading and the one on the end was pretending to sleep. At the last minute, this guy runs down the aisle and plops into the seat next to me, frantically moving to get his seatbelt on. He's youngish, probably mid-thirties and fairly thin - a completely normal looking guy......until he opened his mouth.

After we took off, not-normal guy ordered a Jack and Coke and a beer (remember this is not even a one-hour flight). The attendant told him they didn't serve beer, so he chose two Jack and Coke. Instead of pulling out the tray like a normal human, he perched his mini-bar in his lap and proceeded to mix drinks. The other girl and I stared for a moment then looked at each other with that raised eyebrow expression. We went on to talk about traveling and motorcyles and I told her about my fairly recent crash where I totalled my crotch rocket (really fast street bike). I broke my foot, several toes, sprained my ankle and lost about 30% of the skin off my body from my chest down. It was not pretty.

Mini-bar jumps into the conversation telling about HIS motorcycle wreck where he sprained his ankle and ended up addicted to oxycoton (not sure of the spelling there - but it's that Rush Limbaugh fiasco drug). So I stare because my injuries were serious and I never got any oxycoton. Then he goes on to say how he had to check into a treatment facility by court order for thirty days to get off the drugs and how it was really putting a kink in his business of roofing houses (this guy is on top of houses - scary, right?) So me and the other girl try not to comment because this guy has just dumped a bunch of really uncomfortable personal business on a crowded airplane and we don't even want to go there. So we change the subject to flight delays. The girl had a flight cancelled earlier and had waited several hours for another available flight. Apparently, that wasn't a safe subject either.

Mini-bar perks up and says something like this "I'm such a bonehead. My flight was last night but I missed it because I had the wrong time. The people from the treatment facility have to take me to the plane, so I had to check back in overnight and get another flight out today."

'Ole girl and I just stared, and even though I knew I shouldn't ask, I couldn't help it. So I say "You just got out of a treatment facility and you're drinking? Aren't you supposed to avoid that sort of thing for a while?"

'Ole girl leaned in, the guy next to her lowered his paper and looked over it, the sleeping man opened one eye. I know it was a plane, but I swear you could have heard a pin drop.

Mini-bar just looks at me and says - serious as a heart attack - "but I don't have a problem with alcohol."

I just nodded and said. "Of course you don't."

As Larry the Cable guy would say "I don't care who you are, that's funny." Now, if you put a character in a book that behaved like mini-bar, you'd have to have a good reason for his belief system and his behavoir, but what do you want to bet that mini-bar just toodles along and never gives a second thought to the things he does. Heck, I'm not even certain a first thought was in there.

I haven't had an opportunity yet to use him in a book, but I can tell you that he's always stayed in the back of my mind - especially when I was looking for roof repairs. :)

- Deadly DeLeon


Christie Craig said...


LOL! Love the story. Yep...real people are my inspiration, too. Unfortunately, most of mine are my family members.

And I'll be looking for mini-bar in one of your books.


Jaye Wells said...

Jana, you crack me up. You're the only person I know who regularly says what everyone else only thinks. You're an inspiration.

Gemma Halliday said...

Ha! I love it! Sadly, I think I dated Mini-bar at one point...

I'm always stealing bits of personality from people I know, too. Hey, even I couldn't make some of this stuff up.


Jana DeLeon said...

Oh God, Christie, don't even get into family. Mine makes those Jerry Springer guests look very, very boring. :)

Thanks, Jaye! If only this mouth would bring me more money than trouble.......but hey, you only live once, right?

LOL Gemma - I hope you ditched him soon! And yeah, I couldn't make some of this stuff up either. :)

Hellie Sinclair said...

I think I sat by this same guy!

Interesting. He must get some frequent flyer miles.

Yes, and you can't make up some of this stuff. And you're dead to rights that you'd have to have motive if you used them in your book, but in real life, they'd have no idea....

Bethany True said...

Writers' Note: I'm sure all you guys do this but I keep a little notebook in my handbag at all times. I'm such a people watcher and I'm always looking for quirky characters for my books. I love to jot down the scenes the play out in real life and have come back to them several times when I need comic relief or something. It is especially fun to take "overheard" type notes. The things people say when they think nobody is listening...

Anonymous said...

ROFL!!! As I'm always fond of saying, people are freakin' weird. *g*

Estella said...

What a weird man!

Jana DeLeon said...

mshellion - let's hope mini-bar stays grounded after his rehab stint, but I'm not betting on it. :)

Bethany - I DO keep notes and taking a tip from my friend Jaye Wells, sometimes I blog the odd things I've overheard people saying. Maybe I'll post some here.

tori & estella - I couldn't agree more!

Unknown said...

moma alway told me, the weirder it was, the more likely it was true

my family wsa SOOO out there , but at the time, i never really knew how bad till i got older

Jana DeLeon said...

blackroze - thank goodness we don't understand about family matters until we're old enough to choose to stay away, right? :)

Anonymous said...

LOL, that is hilarious. I will definitely remember mini-bar for some time. :)

Wendy Roberts said...

HAHAHAHA! Oh Jana, you always get me. Yup. We'd have a hard time using Mr. Mini-bar in a story 'cause our readers are too bright to believe people are really that stoopid. But they are. Snort.

Carol M said...

That's a great story! It takes all kinds! lol

Bettye Johnson said...

I'm still laughing at your description of the mini-bar man. You truly have a wonderful knack for describing some wonderful, wacky people. I look forward to reading about your man in one of your books.
Bettye Johnson

Jana DeLeon said...

hi jennifer - remember him....but don't date him and definitely don't let him roof your house. :)

wendy - I kinda got a mini-bar guy in UNLUCKY. You'll have to let me know if you figure out which one it is. :)

carol - it definitely takes all kinds, but hey, without variety what would we write about?

Bettye - check out UNLUCKY (my October release) for a loose rendering of mini-bar. I love the huge secondary characters that steal the books! :)