Friday, May 3, 2013

Turning Real People Into Characters

Photo by Sara McBride

The people one meets in life often inspire literary characters. It’s interesting to read an author writing about another author and how she might have met real people that morphed into literary characters we now know and love. 

I’m reading Scott Southard’s new book A Jane Austen Daydream and marveling at how the characters are often a mash-up of several defined Austen characters. For example, Mrs. Catherine de Bourgh, with a sickly, pale daughter, is the physicality of Lady de Bourgh and her frail daughter Anne, but the character contains the jubilence and vulgarity of Mrs. Jennings from Sense and Sensibility, and the silliness of Miss Bates from Emma. Not just personality traits are witnessed, but also behavior habits, like in Emma, in an effort to include her elderly mother in conversation, Miss Bates is constantly asking her mother's opinion, but then continuously rattles on with or without a response. Scott Southard’s character of Mrs. Catherine de Bourgh demonstrates the same behavior, but toward her sickly daughter. 

I expected A Jane Austen Daydream to be filled with “Real Life” people from Jane Austen’s world that directly and precisely resemble her well-defined characters. The film Becoming Jane is extremely guilty of this. But instead, Mr. Southard has given truth to the practices of an author. Authors take pieces of people and jumble them together. 

In one scene alone, Mr. Southard gives us pieces from several Austen books. The high-and-mighty, always-extolling-advice personality of Lady Catherine de Bourgh is contained in a slender, tolerant woman who asks that her guests do not embarrass her, and offers advice on how a lady should present herself at a ball. Also in the scene are Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, the aforementioned Mrs. Jennings/Miss Bates character and her sickly daughter. In the single scene, there is the creation of the malevolent Lady Catherine de Bourgh by transposing a personality of one person into the physicality of two others. 
We also witness Jane Austen and her sister conversing about the ball, much as Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in Pride & Prejudice often do. Then Jane Austen is slighted by the woman giving advice, much like Fanny in Mansfield Park or Anne Elliot in Persuasion is never considered worth anyone’s real attention.

Rarely does a real life person or scenario completely transpose themselves into a novel. We, as authors, take pieces of events and people and mix and match to our liking. I’m pleased that Mr. Southard realized this when creating the fictional character of Jane Austen. All of Southard’s characters incorporate pieces of Austen’s characters, but nothing is blatant, it is all subtlety, as Austen is herself. 

Another interesting point about Scott Southard is the he’s a He! Very few men have the nerve (or interest) to tackle Jane Austen. I’m very much looking forward to finishing his novel and gaining a man’s perspective on the iconic authoress. 

A Jane Austen Daydream, by Scott Southard is published by Madison Street Press, is available from Amazon.

So next time you’re on a plane and the drunk christian scientist seated next to you wants to buy the entire row a drink (This happened to me last Friday!), do what Jane Austen does (According to Scott Southard), and embrace the eccentricities of your fellow humans. Make a study of behaviors, traits, sayings and histories and start cobbling together the puzzle pieces of a character. You never know when parts of a Lady Catherine de Bourgh or a Mr. Bennet might leap out at you.


  1. I like that advice - embrace the eccentricities. Eccentric people make memorable characters.

  2. Hi Julia, yes, since I started writing a decade ago, I've definitely embraced the wacky people I encounter, especially while traveling.