Jerry Talks About His Characters in Left Behind

Jerry Jenkins Many writers say the characters move the plot of a novel. A novelist must know a character to determine the actions that person will take in a certain situation. And when a character's actions and personality are seamless, the character comes to life. Readers relate to such realistic portrayals of the people in a novel, and Jerry B. Jenkins writes his characters so well some readers wonder if they aren't real people. In fact, we received an e-mail from a reader who can't help but pray for Buck and Chloe, Rayford and Tsion! We decided to ask Jerry how he does it.

Where do you get your ideas for characters?
I make them up. [chuckles]

You just make them up?
That's sort of a simplistic answer. Most characters are composites of people I know and people I've seen. I might take one person's gender and another person's personality and another person's voice, another person's coloring type. So there's a little bit of somebody in there that I know, but they're so mixed up that it's not like Oh, that must be Uncle Jack.

How do you decide what traits are good for a character?
I tend to be really observant. I want to catch somebody's flavor—usually, of course, it's the quirkiest parts of different personalities or looks. I want the characters to be memorable. And the more important they are to the story the more of that kind of stuff they should have. If it's just an orbital character I might just talk about a tall, redheaded person who's guarding the door, but if it's a main character, then I want to take the best of lots of different people.

What inspired you to write about Carpathia riding a pig? How did you come up with that?
It was one of those things where Carpathia is the ideal villain. You can make him do the worst things imaginable. I tried not to make him too comical because you can get silly with it. But I think Satan imitates everything Christ did. And what's the worst blasphemy in a synagogue? Jews don't even eat pork let alone ride on a pig. I just tried to think of the most blasphemous things he could do, and that was one of them. I tried to imagine myself if this were my religion. A pig is unclean. It's not worth eating. They keep it separate. Here it is in the temple; here it is on the Via Dolorosa. It was just a matter of trying to make him as despicable as possible.

Are there going to be any new major characters in the last book?
I'm not sure. I haven't planned any, but sometimes they surprise you. I write as a process of discovery. It gives me my out. When people say, "Why did you kill off my favorite character?" I say, "I didn't kill him off. I found him dead." But it seems to me there's so much to tell yet, and I've only got one main character left, only one of the Tribulation Force left.

Are you going to tell us who it is?
Sure. [laughs]

Do you know?
Oh yes. I knew from book two. But it's really interesting. I thought it would be real obvious at the end of Armageddon that somebody died, and we didn't know who it was. But most people just assume they know who it is. They've decided, oh, that's when he died. And I say, "He did? What says he died? There's no name." And they'll try to say, "Well you were flipping back and forth between these two." And then they decide it wasn't either one of them.

It seems as though sometimes you have fun with characters. I picture you laughing as you write. Do you have one passage that you found hilarious as you wrote it?
There are really several, but the biggest challenge I have is trying to work any humor into such a dark period. And I realize about the only humor you can have is to make fun of bureaucrats or officials especially on the other side. I really have fun. I suppose one of my favorites is when Leon becomes the head of the church, and he's all dressed up and he trips on his robe. I remember laughing when I wrote it and having one my brothers tell me that he almost wet his pants when he read it. Leon couldn't keep his hat on. Of course it's got every symbol ever thought of, just sort of the ultimate buffoon.

I love words, so I've got a lot of anagrams and stuff in there. I've got names of New York Mets from the sixties, because they beat the Cubs and I've never forgiven them for that. (Any team can have a bad century.) But there's Chang's boss in the computer area of New Babylon. He was trying to play the big shot and leaned back in his chair and smoked a cigar and his chair flipped over. I like that one, too!