Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Evolution of a Fictional Character

I had occasion to exchange a few emails with the publisher of my latest novel, THE LIVING END. I was talking about one of the principal characters in the book, Roland Thompson.
At any rate, I have had a few people ask me about how I go about creating a character, and so I'll just mention a few things about this particular cat--one of the leading protagonists of the book.

Some of my characters, despite some strong personalities, remain nebulous to me as far as specific physical features are concerned. Even though I'm writing about them, and creating them whole from my imagination, sometimes it's as if I view them through dingy glass, or blurred vision. However, this was not so with Roland Thompson, from THE LIVING END.

From the beginning I knew what Roland looked like and just about everything about him. I named him after "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" from the well-known tune by the late Warren Zevon. And I knew precisely what he looked like. He was tall, and lean and focused. He was a student in a Masters program at the University of Georgia when the troubles break out, and he is trying to get across the ruined miles to his parents in Charlotte, North Carolina when he sets out.

I describe him as "looking like a lion", to me that meant that he looked like the jazz musician Miles Davis. So from the very beginning I knew exactly what Roland Thompson looked like and how he acted and what he was going to do. He was highly educated, devoted to his family, and determined. It was this determination that allowed him to quickly adapt and survive within the confines of the apocalyptic history in which he found himself living.

Miles Davis: The actual physical model for my character Roland Thompson.

In addition, I also knew about the weapon that he carried and which became his signature tool:

The Long Tom shotgun.

Because I own one.

I often tell people that I don't own a firearm. But I do, technically. I never fire it, and I haven't since I was 16 years old, and I have no intention of ever firing it again. It was my father's gun (he bought it some time during the early 1960s soon after we moved from Brunswick to Atlanta), and that's why I still own it.

It's an effective weapon for both small and large game, but impractical for much of anything else. It's a basic, almost ancient weapon, known for its three-foot barrel. It holds one shell, 12 gauge, and the shot can vary from bird shot to double-ought buckshot to single wads of metal called slugs. That's Roland's load of choice in the novel--slugs. He can take out a zombie across a street or a racist asswipe from a quarter mile distance.

So there he was striding out of the horrors within THE LIVING END:

Roland Thompson, carrying the Long Tom firearm.

The weapon Fate handed Roland Thompson: The Long Tom shotgun.


dogboy443 said...

Perfect. Exactly as I pictured him, maybe with a little bit more dreadlock action because of his time spent on the road.

HemlockMan said...

Glad he fit your mental image!

He was one of the characters in the book who stood out the most for me. The Nuttman family, too. And Melissa. I have very strong images of what they all look like.

BC looks like the Border Collie who bit me a few years back (of course).