What’s in a Character?

Michael Early Cowboy

Yep, that’s me. A rootin’, tootin’ cowboy during one of my earlier summer adventures. He’s much cuter than I am now–quite a character too!

Speaking of characters, inserting characters into works of fiction and then speaking through them in dialog is a fascination to me as a reader and a difficult ordeal as a writer.

I have watched TV sitcoms and dramas that were easily seen as successful, or not, solely based on the chemistry of the selected cast. Obviously the writing must be good and the character credibility must be apparent, but the interplay, timing and transitions between the chosen characters can instantly attract audiences or lose appeal just as fast.  I find that works of fiction play out much the same. There is a chemistry that must be developed between all the characters in your book. It actually begins by choosing eye-catching, memory-banking names. I have read books where I have had to flip back several pages to be reminded who was who. Characters must also have a back story that allows credibility for all of their actions and behaviors. It helps if the reader can identify the character’s philosophy and attitudes. And finally, the dialog must belong to the character and not the writer, as though the writer were merely recording what the character is saying. Putting all of your characters together so that the chemistry produces the necessary draw is the magic we, as writers, all beg to offer. It all begins with creating independently interesting characters with believable back stories that the reader can relate to.

All of this is not an easy task. One way to attempt good character development is to mirror characteristics from people you know. Not exact replicas, but hybrids of personalities, appearances and tones that yield a unique specimen for your book. It’s like blending plums and apricots to get a pluot, (a real fruit). Even more difficult though is the back story. If you don’t know the blended personalities well, creating a back story can appear stilted, lacking depth and color (as in contrast, nature and complexion). You can be as creative as you like but you will need some contextual bracketing for your creative process, i.e., characters you have read, seen on TV, interacted with in business or met socially.

Another way to invent the back story is to dissect your own personality to find the other people living within then develop that part of you, inserting the product into the genome of your character.

How do you develop your characters?




We're the heckowee tribe
We’re the heckowee tribe

For those of you who remember the 1965 sitcom, F Troop, I feel a lot like the Indian tribe in the show. They were called the The Hekawis. When Captain Wilton Parmenter asked the Indian chief where his tribe got their name, the chief explained that when the tribe had migrated to the land they were now in, they had gotten lost. As they surveyed the horizon, the chief said, “Where the heck are we?” From then on, they were know as the Hekawee tribe.

That is exactly how I feel beginning this blog for the first time. I’ve been lost most of the time as I have been wandering through the tutorials. If you are young and know your way around such things as blogs and social media, don’t be so smug. Your day is coming. It won’t be long before you are struggling to keep up with the momentum of a tight technology curve.

Hello, I’m Michael. Glad to meet you all on this interesting blogosphere. I am a recently published author of fiction. You can read all about it on my website. My first book (not the first written but the first published) was inspired by an admired college professor from forty years ago. He had a fetish for James Thurber and would often go off on a theatrical reading of Thurber’s short story, Walter Mitty. It made us laugh but it also made me hungry to be that writer. Unfortunately, it took forty years for the inspiration to manifest into a first book, Clifford Wendell, Daydreamer Extraordinaire, which is my modern day Walter Mitty. I thought it only fitting for my first published book to have a root cause for its creative genesis. Like many of you out there, I have been a closet writer for many years. I write an article, a poem, a book, whatever, then click ‘file’ and save. I don’t know exactly what has gotten into me (it might have been the mushrooms), but I suddenly want to write more and click ‘send’ instead of ‘save.’

Now that you have read my introduction, let me introduce my interest in blogging. I read a lot (far more than I write) and I have always been fascinated with the writer’s mind–the inspiration, the process they invoke and the standards they employ (moral standards), the unbelievable excess of creativity and the cause and effect of their writing–and much more. So I want to know more about what makes you tick, from where you get your inspiration, how does the fiction descend from the cloud and form your stories. How do you choose a character (s) and speak for them and to them? And more and more…

So as the blog goes on, I will offer my few comments on the subjects I choose before delving into your world, if you will let me. Your replies will, no doubt, send us all into other corners of the writer’s mind that will fascinate us all.

Where is the Moral Delimiter in Writing?

Most of us, if not all of us, began reading before we began writing. I remembered early on that reading was like opening a door and entering a room (a very large room) where there were no rules about what you could read. No one would slap you for reading a dirty word or describing an intimate scene (in your mind’s eye, of course). You, the reader, reserved the ultimate decision to open or close the cover. The author seemed to have carte blanche to squeeze out any idea or conversation without moral limits, except those set by the reading audience.  Even then, the writer could determine whether his or her words were meant merely for art, rather than for sales, in which case, the reader had no bearing on the writer’s content. Yet, when I closed the book and re-entered the real world, everything I said or did was guarded by the rules and moralities set forth by mother and father, society, church and the discomfort of your own conscience.

It was easy to pick out the less attractive behaviors of people in broad daylight and maintain a safe distance from their influence. But then the book cover would be opened again, and the light changed. You could see and hear and smell the in-formalities of characters operating without hesitancy in a grayer moral world invented by the author’s unfettered imagination.

The idea of a wavering, detached moral line that is drawn indiscriminately through a story, often times, clashes with my own moral code and produces a discomfort–maybe a distortion, producing a kind of reader vertigo. That said, I can often find my own hand writing more deeply and drawing out thoughts that enter from the dark door on the left leaving me to wonder whether to rewrite so as to remain above my own perceived moral delimiter or to explore the depths of a world we usually keep secret, caged and guarded.

I found that you must set the standard before you begin to write. You must know the dimensions of your morality–the width, length and depth of the code and pin it to an act of the will which travels like an acrobat on a high wire balancing imagination between the doctrines of goodness above the wire and the scandal of what lies beneath.

How do you, as writers, determine where your moral delimiter is? Do you allow the story to take you where it may or do you consciously manipulate the story so that it does not fall off the wire?

I suspect that the majority of writers use a method akin to moral relativism. If  the exterior of your plot has been pealed back to reveal a juicy interior that is an appalling or unsettling violence or intimacy, you can blame it on reality. After all, reality is not subject to morality. It is simply an outcome of events for all passersby to view or not view. This is not to say that we have not seen the sordidness of life through our own windows and that often the witnessing must be spoken of, revealed for judgment or condemnation. It is indeed a fine line, but the most important thing is that a line exist–that we know how far it wobbles and our own ability to juggle it well. An invention of reality does not reality make.

Authorship that banishes morality for the sake of titillating words and frivolities that would otherwise embarrass an audience outside the pages of your book, is a mistake that blemishes the artistry.