Running Into My Fictional Characters--In My Real Life (Sydney Salter)

I create wholly fictional love interests that meet my character's needs, or not. But I have a description problem. If we were to have lunch today, I wouldn't remember what you were wearing, or even how your hair looked.

Readers, however, do want to "see" our characters. I compensate for my weakness by borrowing images of people. Most of the time, I clip photos from my magazine collection. Here's the character collage I made for My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters.

But I did something different for my next WIP.

Rushing along with the heady joy of NaNoWriMo, I'd crafted a rather bland love interest. I guess he was kind of blond-ish, tall-ish, his eyes switching green or blue every few pages... And then I went grocery shopping.

The quirky new checker with his spiky dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, and crooked smile, well, he practically begged to become my new love interest. I suddenly saw everything about him: Japanese mother, drive to succeed, inability to dance. My NaNo draft zipped along with ease. Until the day I wrote a rather steamy love scene. Right before grocery shopping. When he asked, "did you find everything you needed?" I blushed and stammered like an idiot. I wanted to do this:

But I didn't learn my lesson.

Fast forward to my next Work-In-Progress. My story idea actually started with the love interest. All spring, I'd woken to the intriguing sound of pavement opening like a zipper as a cute neighborhood teen skateboarded to school. Feeling more like a creepy old lady than a hip YA writer, I'd peek out my window and watch this willowy teen weave down our hill with absolute grace. The day I knew that he just HAD to be my next fictional love interest:  he'd tucked his shirt into his back pocket, showing off his muscles, while zigzagging down the street talking on the phone and holding a cup of coffee. Wow. Readers of Swoon At Your Own Risk fell in love with Xander Cooper.

But I hadn't counted on this.

Turns out that my fictional skateboarding hottie has real life siblings. His little sister and my daughter now play on the same soccer team. About 943,000 games a week. Our families now carpool to obscure soccer fields all over the state. And during every college break, I run into Xander Cooper, once again blushing and stammering.

How do you tell a real life guy that he's your most popular fictional love interest?


  1. I love love love this post. It's so true - when describing the love interest in a novel, I always seem to come up with the same handful of adjectives, and ultimately, they feel one-dimensional. Creeper old lady or not, I think the best way to really capture the details is to study it, much as you would a painting in a museum. Teenage boys definitely have a different way of carrying themselves, mannerisms they do because they are trying to look cool, their bodies are different because they are still growing into their own skin. Unless you have one running around in your own home (and then that delves into a whole other creeper area to study your own kid like the anonymity of a stranger that catches your eye is a great way to go. Just writing down why he caught your eye in the first place is a great start. I, for one, don't think you're a creeper old lady, just a smart writer. :)

  2. This post is SO awesome, Sydney! I loved reading every bit of it. I felt that my WiP was missing something because the love interest was not quite right. Until one fine day, this beatles-haired boy walked into my class and swept my muse off her feet. Naturally, he went into my story and my MC was obviously so much happier, she hasn't thanked me enough. Of course, I never told him so. I had too huge a crush on him to actually talk to him.


    About the real life Xander Cooper -- can I have his number? :D

  3. Oh my gosh, I got an attack of the giddy giggles just thinking about that situation, having to see "the guy" often :P That would be a great idea for a story - an author getting into closer contact with someone who inspired one of their characters.

  4. So funny! Love the pics for this post, too, Syd!

  5. This is so hilarious! I love how you find your love interests though, awkward as it may end up being :)

  6. What a great/awkward situation! I could totally see this happening to me at some point in the future. My husband already makes fun of me for ogling the high school football players in the fall. For inspiration sake, people. Yay for weirdness.

  7. OMG!!! This is hysterical!!!! We need hidden video of these meetings!!!! :o) Love it!

  8. Snorf, snort, snork! Now I know why you're the master of embarrassing situations in your novels. I love, love, love this story.


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