Daily Writing Tip 61 of 100, Final Words On Creating Realistic Characters

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Final Words On Creating Realistic Characters

Source – Mastering Point of View by Sherry Szeman

Liking your characters, allowing them to live their own lives, endowing them with good and bad characteristics, the skillful use of unreliable narrators – these are all valuable tools for creating realistic characters in any point of view. Observing human nature and becoming conscious of the techniques other skillful writers use will also help you develop your own characters, especially if you become aware of the techniques authors use in different points of view.


If your readers talk about your characters as if they were real people, e.g., Asking things like, why on earth that doesn’t Bill leave Marion? Then that’s an indication that you’ve created realistic, round characters who have psychological depth and complexity.

Yes… I think it’s very important that you like your characters. If you don’t like them it’s very hard to make them round, full, and complete.

But just because you like your characters… especially because you like them – it doesn’t mean you should be afraid to kill them. Go ahead, kill the hell out of them… kill them in some particularly horrific way.

Have some fun.

Daily Writing Tip 24 of 100, Exquisite Characters

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Exquisite Characters

Source – The Creative Process by Carol Burke and Molly Best Tinsley

The point of all these negatives is this: the heart of a short story, its energy source, is not, or is no longer, the plot. As the editor of one literary quarterly expressed it for would-be contributors, what he responds to in a story above and beyond everything else is “exquisite characterization.” A story is about people before it is about anything else–about human beings, richly rendered in all their quirkiness and typicality, in all their pain and pleasure, weakness and strength, despair and hope.

I had a writing teacher confess that the biggest problem he had was that his characters, “never did what I want them to do.” Isn’t that the ultimate compliment to your own writing – that the characters you have created are so real and interesting that they insist on living out their own lives, no matter what you want them to do. They become real people, not puppets on a string dancing to some literary formula or hackneyed plot device.

Sunday Snippet – Character Sketches

When my writing group was wandering around the Dallas Arboretum doing our photography thing, I took a step to the side while we were in the Women’s Garden and looked down some steps into a large, rectangular formal garden setting. There, in the center of the garden, sitting on a wooden crate, was an attractive young couple, messing around with something that was wrapped in a complex packaging.

It was obviously a staged engagement. The couple was surrounded by smiling people, friends and relatives, all pointing cameras in their direction. I took a couple shots of the scene and moved on.

Now I have a picture of all these people I don’t know at all. That’s a good way to practice doing character sketches. I take a look at each one and try to make up their story.

I know that’s a nasty thing to do… make up a bunch of stupid lies about a group of complete strangers and then put the thing out on the web. But there is something about expectation of privacy at work here… and if you are going to get yourself engaged in the middle of a formal garden in the Dallas Arboretum on a Saturday Morning… well you can kiss any expectation of privacy goodbye.

So, here, without any further ado… I give you:

The Happy Couple

Roberta Bustamante
Franklin Sellars

They met when stuck next to each other for two hours on the Texas Twister ride at the second-rate amusement park Frontier Daze. The ride was upside down for the entire time with the riders hanging from their safety harnesses and Roberta liked that Franklin had smuggled in a sizable flask in his pant leg. Franklin had chugged a good part of the flask to empty it so Roberta would have a place to pee. She thought that was a chivalrous thing to do; he was impressed by the gymnastics.

The park had been rented out by Franklin’s boss, Tyrone Woodchipper and his company Acrasia Investments as a cheap morale booster. Franklin hated the place but felt he had to attend.

Franklin has never been given a straight answer as to why Roberta was there.

They dated for some time and then moved in with each other a year ago. Roberta had a much larger and more luxurious apartment but she insisted on moving into Franklin’s. He has always wondered how she could have afforded such a nice place and was disappointed they couldn’t move there. Franklin loved the window treatments.

Their long-range plans pretty much peter out at the end of their European honeymoon.

The Parents and entourage

Front to back:

Svetlana Bustamante (Roberta’s young half-sister)
Smithsonian (Smitty) Bustamante (Father)
Georgia Bustamante (Stepmother)
Metal Hurlant (Mrs. Sellars’ personal secretary – barely visible)
Claudia Sellars (Mother)
Freemont Sellars (Father)

Smitty is a widower – his first wife, Roberta’s mother, was killed in a mall parking lot – run down by a shoplifting suspect speeding in a pickup truck, fleeing mall security. Georgia was a mail order bride from the Ukraine. Smitty had never lived on his own and didn’t want to mess around with the dating scene. The little girl, Svetlana, is Georgia’s daughter. She left her behind with relatives and didn’t tell Smitty about her until they had been married a year – he immediately sent for her and loves her like his own.

In the back are Franklin’s parents Freemont and Claudia. He made a fortune off of the chain of furniture rental shops he inherited from his father. He always expected Franklin to follow in his footsteps but was secretly relieved when he went off on his own. Even though he undoubtedly loves his son – the kid always made him uneasy when he was around him too much.

The two, Freemont and Claudia, were high school sweethearts. They watch a lot of television. He collects antique watches, she likes to crochet.

Next to Claudia, barely visible in the photograph, is Claudia’s personal secretary who was originally hired from France as an au pair to help raise their daughter, Penelope. Her name is Metal Hurlant – and is from Marseilles – although Claudia tells everybody she is from Paris. Metal organized and set up the whole engagement extravaganza.

Jimmy Bustamante

Roberta’s little brother. He was an infant when his mother was killed and doesn’t remember her at all.

He has been in a very good mood lately after finding a motherlode of illegal drugs hidden in what used to be Roberta’s underwear drawer. He made the discovery when he finally moved into her bedroom after she became engaged and made it clear she would not be moving home.

The drugs were stashed there in a panic by Joaquin Smirnov – a handsome yet terribly addled fling of Roberta’s. Joaquin panicked and threw the bundle of baggies into the drawer when he heard Franklin, Roberta’s fiancé, coming up the stairs. Joaquin hid under the bed, naked, while Franklin paced around, waiting for Roberta, upset (he suspected something) for over an hour and a half. Roberta, unknown to anyone, had gone downstairs for a glass of ice water and bailed out the back door when Franklin drove up and was hiding, also naked, in a large clump of ornamental grass waiting for him to leave.

Joaquin forgot about the stash due to the strain of hiding under the bed for ninety minutes. The drugs stayed there for Jimmy to find because Roberta never looked in the drawer – she hasn’t worn underwear for a year and a half.

Jimmy is now the most popular kid in General George S. Patton Junior High School. He is taking photos with the new hi-tech Nikon compact camera he bought with sale proceeds.

Wendal Fruitbat

He is Metal Hurlant’s boyfriend, though nobody in the family knows this. She is madly in love with him. Their only discussion of the future has been her telling him that if they ever marry, she will not take his last name. He understands perfectly that she does not want to go by the name Metal Fruitbat.

She hired him for the engagement when he told her he had been his high school yearbook photographer. Metal rented him his equipment. Unfortunately, though Wendal is a good person generally, he is a helpless inveterate liar. He knows nothing about photography and is currently using a terrifically expensive camera without a data card.

Reginald Von Sample.

He is Franklin’s oldest and closest friend. They met by random their freshman year at university when they were put in a room together due to an experimental and controversial software program that analyzed students’ admission essays and placed freshmen that the algorithms deemed compatible. They lived the entire six years of both their undergraduate studies together in the same dormitory room.

Reginald left after graduation for a stint in the Merchant Marine. He said he wanted to see the world. He returned two years early and said there didn’t seem to be much out there worth seeing. He moved back in with Franklin until there was a nasty drunken argument late one night. Reginald suffered a serious cut under one arm that seemed to be inflicted by a Cuisinart Chef’s knife. He declined to press charges but moved out.

There was a distance between Reginald and Franklin after this, but the engagement seems to have brought them close together again.

Deasel Widdershins

Deasel is a private investigator hired by an unknown person (even to herself). She receives her instructions by anonymous email and payment through a mysterious Paypal account. She has been instructed to get to know the family and report on anything untoward.

Her cover story is that she is a scout for an obscure cable channel that is considering a newlywed reality show.

It was made clear that she was selected due to a reputation of absolute trustworthiness. Her honesty is not accompanied by competency, however, and she has not found out anything interesting yet.

Penelope Sellars

Franklin’s little sister. She is at that confusing age… made even more confusing by the sudden appearance of deep feelings for her brother’s fiancé. She has made the decision to simply go with it and see what happens. She doesn’t really have any choice.

Tyrone Woodchipper

He has been the Sugardaddy to the soon-to-be blushing bride for the last three years. He made his fortune through his company, Acrasia Investments, which advertises itself as offering speculation in arbitrage futures, but is in reality a front used by Mexican drug cartels to launder their United States profits.

He met Roberta through his son, Luther, who saw her briefly but passionately after their meeting at a speed-dating event. Roberta had an acrimonious breakup with Luther a month after she started sleeping with his father.

Tyrone has very mixed feelings about his mistress’ upcoming nuptials. He is glad that her husband works for him, which will enable him to keep her around easily, but he feels his manhood threatened in general. He is not getting any younger.

Luther Woodchipper (hiding in bushes)

Luther has never recovered from his breakup with Roberta and desperately manages to keep tabs despite the various court issued restraining orders. He doesn’t know what he will do but knows that whatever it is, it has to be soon.

Why I Love to Slaughter my Characters

Man is born crying. When he cries enough, he dies.

As I’ve said before, I can outline too many of my short stories with three cards-

1. Introduce Compelling Character – interesting and fully rounded human that, despite some quirky faults and failings, the reader likes and can identify with.

2. Something bad happens – the protagonist is presented with something that does not go as planned and puts them in some distress – a problem to solve.

3. Protagonist dies. Nothing works, doom descends and the main character dies an ignominious, painful death.

They aren’t all like this, but this is what I like to shoot for. It’s just that sometimes my characters refuse to do what I tell them to and, despite my best efforts, they get lucky, scrape by with the skin of their teeth, and survive.

Everyone tells me I’m a terrible person because I take so much joy in butchering my heroes and heroines, especially since they are sometimes such nice people. Some ask me why I do that. I do it because I like it. I do it because I can. I do it because it doesn’t hurt anybody.

These are fictional characters. They are not real. Everything is a lie. Writing this stuff is a lot of hard work, time that I should be spending in useful money-making activities – so I want a payoff. Since I can do anything, doesn’t it make sense to do what I can’t ever do in real life? Death! Off with their heads!

The idea is to kick it up a notch, isn’t it? What possible reason is there not to kick it up as far as it will go. Turn those amplifier knobs to eleven.



It’s the same thing if you are reading. It takes time to turn those pages; time you should be using to interact with real human beings. So if you are choosing to hang out with an imaginary shade instead of a flesh-and-blood person you are going to want to make the best of the situation. So what is the one advantage of befriending fiction, a pack of ghostly lies, over some warm living example of God’s creatures?

You can kill them and nobody gives a shit. Plenty more where they came from. Close those book covers or shut off that e-reader and the pain and mourning is all gone. You can wipe a tear and go make a sandwich-nobody knows any better.

So let’s raise a glass to fictional death. Give a big hearty laugh at the disaster yarn. Let the blood spill and the darkness descend, as long as it is behind the protective screen of those twenty-six letters with the added armor of a few punctuation marks.

There’s too much out here, so lets keep it in there. As much as we can.