I think one of the questions I get most often is “Where did this idea come from?” or “What was the inspiration behind this story? This character?” It’s a tough question to answer because ideas come from everywhere. Everything you see, taste, touch, smell, and hear, can become an idea for a story. So sometimes it’s hard for me to pin down exactly where the inspiration for something came from. But in this collection of posts I want to explore the ones where I do know where the inspiration came from and how the ideas grew and became what they are today.
Personifying the Grim Reaper, Death in the Flesh
Today we’re talking about the character of the Reaper who is later known as Bain in the first book of my series, In Articulo Mortis, which is in the editing phase.
I first got the idea for the character of Bain and the story of Mortis when I was about 16 years old. I’m more than twice that age now so as you can imagine it’s been a long time coming. Obviously, I didn’t create the Grim Reaper. That character has existed for centuries but bringing him to life hasn’t been as big of a challenge as I originally anticipated. He seemed very natural to me, almost like I’d known him for a long time.
To make a long story short, I had trouble keeping my bedroom door open at night as a teenager because I always felt like some unseen force was looking in on me. Even when there was no one else home, there was sometimes like a shadow on the edge of my vision but of course when I turned my head nothing was there. It did not necessarily feel good or bad, it was just there. At night, the darkness of the bathroom across the hall seemed like it could swallow me whole. It was slightly terrifying especially when one has an overactive imagination.
To add to the idea, I have the distinct memory of a dream I had once in which I had met the Grim Reaper. I wasn’t dying or dead but somehow we were speaking to one another like old friends. In the dream he was both an ally and a guide. I of course, took that and pulled it into what the story is today.
Art Begets Art
In trying to form in my head what exactly he would look like, I drew from the art of the movies I had seen. Below are a few pictures of other fictional characters that influenced the image of the Reaper/Bain.
Billy from Hocus-Pocus (played by the amazing Doug Jones) was a large piece of inspiration. Despite his rot and decay, he has this charm and playfulness about him that makes you love that character.
As we all know, there’s something about a three-piece suit (or as they say, a well-dressed man). While not pictured here, the image of the lead antagonist in the Harry Potter series, Voldemort, is seen by Harry in one of the later films, wearing a three-piece suit. It’s very snazzy, classy and timeless. I loved the idea for the Reaper. It made so much sense to be to have this crisp, tailored suit despite his rot and decay.
The Voice of Death
Bringing his voice into the book was really a no-brainer. It’s described often as “raspy” and a cross between “something foreign and ancient.” I was always very entranced by the voice of actor Michael Wincott. He, much like singer Tom Waits, has a very raspy voice. It’s very distinct and the older he gets the more beautiful his voice is. So a lot of people don’t know Michael Wincott by name but if you saw his face you could probably list at least two or three movies that you’ve seen him in. He normally plays a bad guy.
Back to Appearance and Demeanor
Another character that interested me was Anthony James’s portrayal of the Chauffeur in a movie called “Burnt Offerings.” The character never speaks and doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the film, however, his role is very critical to the story. The image of the Chauffeur was striking. It stayed in your head. So the idea of this tall, lanky, pale man reminded me of a psychopomp. That was the Grim Reaper I wanted.
In a nutshell, I think that’s where most of Bain came from. Ultimately, these ideas coming together and these influences are what created the character for me.
Thanks for reading.