Friday, December 28, 2012


Michael W. Davis


I was doing my weekly Tuesday morning guy get together with a bunch of buds and as I watched the conversation rotate around the table I was struck by the uniqueness in the character of each of my friends, and it made me  reflect across all the buds and budettes I’ve called friends across my life. Could be their humor, anger, flaws, fears, work experiences, political belief structure, views of the opposite gender, or a dozen other factors; they all depict their own sphere of intersecting circles that sets them apart in my minds eye. What does this have to do with writing? Hang loose for a moment and I’ll tell ya.

Ever buy a book where twenty or thirty pages in you whisper to yourself, “Yuck, these characters are like every other ya ya I’ve ever read.” Problem is, they’re not unique. The author was lazy, inexperienced, or didn’t take the time to build “real” people into their fictional construct. “But, but, but” you say, “how can you make a hero, heroine, or sub character stand out as unusual.” I mean, after all, across the tens of thousands of stories created, say, just in the last decade, how could ya create a new one. Well, it’s not as hard as you might think.

Pick someone in your life, a friend, enemy, member of the family, someone you saw in the mall and watched do there weird thing for ten minutes, anyone you’ve been exposed to, and use them as a framework to sculpt your own fictional character. Mold a little here, snip a little there, twist the way they act around a hottie, give them a tick, a twitch, contort their humor, haunt their waking hours with the shadows of their nightmares; there are an infinite number of permutation you can use to formulate a unique set of characteristics for that person. Go ahead, give it a try. You’d be surprised how, using that little trick, can make the exercise actually fun, and it works.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

You are so right. When I was in art school in Philadelphia, we sketched in the zoo, the airport, bus stations and train stations. We were actually sent out during the day to sketch moving targets.

Developing unique characters is a form of sketching with words. Look around.

Allison Knight said...

We called it a character's warts. That thing that makes each charcter different, as you say 'unique'. I love watching people and giving them a story based on their actions or reactions. Watching people watching TV in a retail store that sells 'em is a great place to start. The reactions are wonderful, disgust, hope, fear, amazement. You can see it all.

Big Mike said...

Hey Rep G. Had a reader that bought VEIL OF DECEPTION ask how in the world did I fabricate the characters Dakota and her boyfriend Snowman. I explained by watching them one morning at a coffee shop put on a visual display as two extremely unique people, IOW, they were real.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Rhobin Lee Courtright said...

Interesting take, and I think I have done that. Has anyone ever realized you used their traits in a story?

Cathy Coburn said...

Thanks Big Mike, I find my characters reflect someone in my life or someone from my past, much to their dismay at times ;)