Tag Archives: People watching

What a Character


They’re all around us. The people whose outfits demand a raised eyebrow, whose accents incite chuckles, or whose topics of discussion could give hard-boiled news anchors a full-bodied blush. They are the real-life characters in your daily routine, and they make wonderful additions to your story, too.

Most of my fictional characters are fairly normal human-beings. They all tend to be semi-well-adjusted adults of various ages, with typical jobs, cars, homes, and families. But every story needs some quirkiness. It breaks up the normal, and wakes up your reader.

man-looking-through-binocularsI like to add some fun to a story with folks like Jib Boeller, a middle-aged man who insists that he saw the aliens who abducted the missing photographer. Rowan Kirk is a character I invented who refuses to wear neck-ties – why give an attacker a weapon already in place? – and who is fluent in nearly one hundred different languages, if you count all the most common computer programming scripts. I’m currently developing Ingrid, who is 118 years old with the appearance of a twenty-something supermodel. She’s a gourmet cook who loves opera and dangerous stunts.

My eccentric players are fictional, but their most defining character traits are certainly borrowed from my reality. I have friends who “speak” computer, see aliens, and jump from one adrenaline rush to the next. Every time I hear about someone doing something outrageous, I write down the basics and look for opportunities to include them in a story.

I don’t write them in such a way so that they could recognize themselves and be offended. I just include the details that make me curious about them in the first place. I believe that if I, as the author, am interested in them, then my audience will be, too.

Go ahead and give your reader a character who wears tiger-striped pants and chews fruflamesit gum whenever he wants to remember his computer passwords. Give your hero an Aunt Gilda who wears blue-glittered false eyelashes and drives a hearse with flames on the fenders.

These quirky folks don’t have to be your protagonists, but how a point-of-view character reacts to their idiosyncrasies can speak volumes to your reader. A vignette with a peculiar personality can provide your readers with respite from an otherwise tense scene. A well-placed kooky character can also help connect you to your reader. They will recognize their outfits, their mannerisms, or their habits, either in themselves or in someone they know.

Great characters are everywhere, just waiting to be part of your next tale. Keep your eyes and ears open and your pencil handy.

Kimberly Black

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On Writing the World


I recently took a trip for my day job employer, going from Lubbock, (west) Texas to Mississippi, and on to points in Arkansas and Louisiana. You wouldn’t think there would be that much difference in the land and culture. You wouldn’t think so.

First thing you notice coming in from the air is that great big river. We have some creeks which run in rainy weather, but nothing to compare with “Ol’ Man River.”

Jackson is carved out of hills and trees, and the drive to Vicksburg is beautiful, but foreign, to a plains boy who’s used to seeing for miles and miles.

Staying at a casino hotel in Vicksburg, I watched and photographed the barges making their way up and down the Mississippi, making that grand turn at the bend.

Over the river in Arkansas and Louisiana, you see the flat ground of the Mississippi Delta. Farmland and trees, bayous and river runs.

It’s the people who make it different, though. Peddling farm implements, I meet agricultural equipment dealers. They have their own way about things. It’s like a tee shirt I saw in a touristy shop. It said, “We don’t care how you do it ‘up north.'” That’s the truth. What works elsewhere just don’t necessarily work in the Delta. And when deer season comes, well, you wait until it’s over. They are serious about deer hunting. And duck hunting. And fishing. You get the idea.

History is different there. It was settled by European interlopers a century or more before my area was. The civil war still echoes. Racial tensions, too. Palpable. Not that we don’t have them in Lubbock, but I was unprepared for their intensity the first time I went.

You may be wondering by now: what does this have to do with writing? Contrast. It’s hard to get a view of culture until you see the differences, really understand that while people hold certain common beliefs and concepts, they are unique in many ways. That contrast can breed conflict or delight, very valuable commodities when you’re penning a story.

If you want to write about the world, get out in it.

Joe Trent

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Filed under characters, description, methods, show don't tell, story, techniques, Writing, writing advise

Six Ways to Defeat Writer’s Block


Are there times when you feel like your muse has deserted you?  Days when the writing just won’t flow?  Don’t despair; there are plenty of methods you can use to pull yourself out of the slump.  Here are a few  I’ve used:

1.  Change your writing routine.  If you usually write in the mornings, try moving the time to evening .  If you usually write at home in your office or den, move to a favorite coffee shop.  This forces your mind to work in a new way and sparks new ideas.

2.   Do some people watching.  Go to your favorite place like the mall or a park, any place where people gather.  Take your laptop or a pen and paper and write character sketches.  Listen to the conversations of those around you.  Observe their body language and facial expressions.  Keep these notes in a file for future reference to help develop new characters.

3.  Have an imaginary conversation with your main character.  Would they like your favorite place?  What would they want to talk about?  What did you learn about them?

4.  Describe a scene in nature.  Take that scene and drop your main character into it.  How would they feel while observing this scene?  Would they find it comforting?  Would they hate it?  What new things did you learn about that character?

5.  Write a piece of flash fiction Write down a short list of random words–a proper name, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs–all completely unrelated to each other and use them in the story.  Do this in less than 500 words.

6.  Write a short story.  Take your main character or your villain and start a storyline unrelated to your work in progress.  What have learned about your character by doing this?  Or did you get an entirely new idea for a book?

What is your method for getting back on track with your writing?

Suzanne Bogue

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Filed under characters, description, flash fiction, methods, short stories, story, techniques, writer's block, Writing, writing advise