No Need To Dream Up Characters

29 Aug

I was thinking the other day about a kid I grew up with; we’ll call him Bobby Mertins because it would serve no purpose in using his real name.

Bobby was one of those people who are perpetually in the background.  There was nothing particularly interesting about him.  He was not good at sports, and social interaction with Bobby was like interacting with a door knob.  I don’t say that to be cruel but rather to point out that Bobby just wasn’t someone you remember with any clarity.

He was always in our pickup baseball games, a warm body to help make up a team, but he was a very bad player.  He would be there to play hide-and-seek, he would take part in impromptu wrestling matches, or snowball fights, but he just wasn’t that much fun to play with.  I’m sure we all remember someone like that from our childhood, a kid always on the periphery of the action but never a key player in any activity.

Bobby committed suicide last year.  I just happened to see his obituary in the online newspaper from my hometown of Tacoma, saw that he had died, contacted an old friend from the neighborhood, and he confirmed that Bobby shot himself with a shotgun.  Sixty-four years old . . . sixty-four years on this planet and really a mystery for most of those sixty-four years.

Bobby will be in one of my upcoming novels.  I owe him that.

I hear all the time writers saying that they are struggling to develop characters, and I wonder how that is possible.  A writer who observes life is surrounded by future characters in their books.  All you have to do is pay attention and rely on recall from time to time.

I had an uncle who suffered from PTSD. He had been in World War 2, on a battleship which was attacked by the Japanese in the Pacific, and when he came home from that war he was a changed man.  He drank heavily, would never talk about the horrors he encountered, and spent years trying to piece his jigsaw of a life back together.

He will be in one of my books soon.

Human beings are fascinating.

Pay attention to them.

If you are accepting of them, they will gladly write your books for you.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

28 Responses to “No Need To Dream Up Characters”

  1. Janine Huldie August 29, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

    What great advice and you are so right that using people in our own lives is a great tool to use when writing characters for novels or books we may be writing. So, couldn’t agree more with this wise tip and advice. Thanks Bill and Happy Tuesday now 😉

    • Billybuc August 29, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

      Aww, thanks, Janine! A wise tip from a not-so-wise person. I appreciate it. Have a terrific Tuesday. It’s still hot here and I’m trying to send it to you.

  2. froggy213 August 29, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

    Yes Bill… I have a problem sometimes because I am studying humans that I lose track as to the person sitting next to me.

    I am saddened that your old classmate took his life. Could it be that the background life finally got to him?

    I am sure when you write it, your opinions will come alive.

    • Billybuc August 29, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

      Thank you Greg….love what you said about the person sitting next to you. Very true,and something I have to be aware of.

  3. rollyachabotbooks August 29, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

    Hi Bill…
    Great article and I do use those characters I have met over the years, name changes are necessary of course. What is comical a very old friend who was a real live character. We have been in touch over the years, I watched his life fall apart. I stood with him many times through some hard stuff. We both watched his two daughters grow into beautiful ladies.

    He laughed and said… “There are only two characters I know off who would head off into the middle of nowhere panning for gold back in the wilds like we did.” We laughed together as we shared the memories. His closing words were… “You could have used my real name you know.” There was a short silence then he said…”In hindsight I am glad you did not, people would think I was crazy.”

    Never be stuck for a character, just look around and if you are totally and completely alone… well look within.

    Hugs from Alberta

    • Billybuc August 29, 2017 at 2:13 pm #

      I love the story, Rolly, and I especially love the last bit of advice…look inside.

      No way am I using real names…that’s a hornet’s nest I prefer to leave alone. 🙂

      Hugs from hot Olympia

  4. 1authorcygnetbrown August 29, 2017 at 11:46 pm #

    I have never had problems developing characters either and although I don’t really model them after real people, there are a few who remind me of people that I know.

    • Billybuc August 30, 2017 at 1:05 am #

      Thanks for sharing, Donna! We have a gold mine of information right inside our heads to use whenever we need it.

  5. Sageleaf August 30, 2017 at 12:56 am #

    Big Bro, I have to say: this is one of your most brilliant posts. Just the way you use storytelling here to compel the reader and how these people make it into your novels – this is priceless! And I’m also sorry about your friend. :/
    But, you’re keen observance of us fellow humans is what’s making you a great writer. So keep on keepin on. Whatever your doing, it works for you!

    • Billybuc August 30, 2017 at 1:06 am #

      You are very kind, Lil Sis! Thank you, and it’s so nice to see you misspell a few words along the way. LOL It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

      Hugs from hot Olympia

  6. Sageleaf August 30, 2017 at 12:57 am #

    *your (sorry…didn’t proofread that well before sending my comment along)

    • Sageleaf August 30, 2017 at 12:58 am #

      and a *you’re (sheesh. My only excuse is that I had a long day, lol)

  7. MartieCoetser August 30, 2017 at 5:37 pm #

    Oh, shame! RIP, Bobby!

    Yes, I think we all have Bobbies in our circle of acquaintances, but really, we don’t wish them dead.

    I actually like using real people as characters in my story. So much easier to know how they will behave in specific circumstances.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration, dear Billybuc!

    • Billybuc August 31, 2017 at 12:17 am #

      Aww, thanks Martie! I probably choose real people for my characters because I’m too lazy to dream up new ones. LOL

  8. Manatita August 30, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    Yes, RIP. We are all good men, or even better yet, flames of the Divine. Who knows what’s going on sometimes. God’s ways are inscrutable to us. But yes, you are right about characters. Peace!

    • Billybuc August 31, 2017 at 12:18 am #

      All true, Manatita…we are all good men indeed.

  9. Mike August 31, 2017 at 1:48 am #

    Hello Bill – One of the ways I know my family does not read my writing, is that they are all in the books. Clear to see, if they wished. So, you are right, there are characters for your story everywhere you look.

    R.I.P. Bobby M. –

    • Billybuc August 31, 2017 at 2:09 am #

      That would be funny, Mike, if it didn’t sound so familiar. I don’t know what it is about families and writers….well, buddy, you have some very loyal friends who love your writing.

  10. Michael Milec August 31, 2017 at 2:18 am #

    So little we know about our friends by observing the course of their life . What is in a man is of spiritual matter, revealed only by a finished action. So in my simple understanding as I can see it, a real world is somewhere in a spiritual realm, a writer sees it visualizing in his inventive dreams before revealing it in a written form.

    • Billybuc August 31, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

      Beautifully stated, Michael my friend. Thank you for the wonderful insight.

  11. phoenix2327 August 31, 2017 at 4:25 pm #

    So true, Bill. We have a treasure trove of characters right at our fingertips. We just have to look.

    I’m sorry about your friend.

    • Billybuc August 31, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

      Oh it’s okay, Zulma! I would hardly call him a close friend. Just one of thousands we all have running through our lives….still, a sad way to leave this life, so thank you!

  12. Karen Szklany Gault September 4, 2017 at 11:33 am #

    So true, Billy. There are so many layers to unfold when engaging with people, and the more we show that we are approachable and trustworthy, the more we learn about people. ~:0)

    • Billybuc September 4, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

      Karen, I love your addition to this discussion…we must show that we are approachable and trustworthy….bravo, my friend. Thank you!

  13. Sarah Potter Writes September 8, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

    I guess that Bobby committed suicide because he’d always been on the periphery and didn’t know how to step out of it. A life without meaning…poor guy. I’m glad you’re going to find a place for him in your book, which, in a strange way, finally gives him meaning. Someone was telling me today about a neighbour from hell. and I said what a wonderful character that neighbour would make in a book. The funny thing was that a few minutes earlier I had been thinking about a psychological thriller (set in my town) that I started and abandoned about five years ago. I think the neighbour from hell would make an excellent character!

    • Billybuc September 8, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

      I do too, Sarah, and I hope that thriller does become a book. Imagine all of the abandoned work out there from writers with talent, like you, which will never be read….that, to me, is a shame.

      So I hope you write that book, my friend.

      Happy Friday to you!

  14. Sharilee Swaity September 8, 2017 at 3:46 pm #

    Bill, great idea…to mine your own life before looking somewhere else. Our own life is material enough for so many books. Great reminder! 🙂

    • Billybuc September 8, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

      Thanks so much, Sharilee! I’ll bet your life was fascinating.

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