I attended Mysticon, in Roanoke, VA, the weekend of February 23-25. It was an easy convention, with only my Writers’ Workshop Saturday morning, the follow-up Sunday morning, and my Plotting Workshop Saturday afternoon. I had a few social commitments; with a friend who was called away after only a few minutes, another friend and an acquaintance with whom I shared fine whiskey for an hour and a half on Saturday night, and two good friends with whom I had supper earlier though they mostly talked shop about the convention, which was okay. The rest of the time I wandered the halls and cruised the dealers’ room, looking for conversations. Which I found in plenty, with fans, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
This has to do with writing because it is how I refresh and add to my knowledge of human behavior, which is essential for being able to portray my characters realistically. Most of the people I talked to at the con, maybe a hundred or more, were just ordinary people (aside from being sf fans and readers), but then so are my characters, when they’re not in their story. No two people are alike, each is a part of a huge three-dimensional spectrum of personalities and behaviors. I absorb it all without thinking about it.
And then, when I need a character for one of my stories — almost always novels these days — I have that huge database of humanity in the back of my head to draw on. I never use real people as my characters — with one exception. But when my characters move or talk or think or act, I know that they are behaving like a real person would, since I’ve seen it somewhere. It’s all real. Unlike in some movies, where people hold flashlights backwards (I asked a retired police officer about that, and police never do that). Or go somewhere they know they shouldn’t — attics, cellars, alleys — without any true motives.
My characters grow, sometimes from the smallest seed, fed and nurtured by that huge compost heap of what I know about real human behavior. And like any good, rich compost heap, I have no idea where any element comes from, no idea who contributed what, I just know that I witnessed it somewhere, and it is real.