Thursday, April 11, 2013

They're all such characters

By Gayle Carline
Author of Mysteries and Humor - Sometimes Together!

After getting to know the authors in this collective, one thing we have in common is the need for our characters to carry the story. We all love a good “what if” story, but we need real people to ask that question.

So how does a writer give life to these folks in their head?

One way is to use physical characteristics and personalities of people you know. I don’t recommend it, but you can do it. Here’s the thing: if you start down that path, you are forever hounded by friends and relatives asking you if Kim Patterson from Hit or Missus is really their snooty next-door neighbor.

No. No, she’s not.

This is Kim Patterson in my head.

A better way is to find a stranger who looks interesting and spend the day stalking them. Okay, not really… but almost. Any time you are out in public, there is the opportunity to observe human behavior. I like to keep a notebook handy, and if I have any kind of sit-and-wait errands (getting the car washed, doctor’s appointments, etc.) I will jot down descriptions of people that pass by. These little lists come in handy when I start creating new people.

As far as personalities, I love reading advice columns. When I was little, I got hooked on Dear Abby and Ann Landers. I’ve since branched out to include Dear Prudence, Ask Margo, and Carolyn Hax. Even Miss Manners gives me an idea of how people perceive both their own actions and others’.

There are people who write in because they are being abused and don’t recognize it. There are those who write in because they don’t understand why they can’t control their environment. People are incensed, they are hurt, they are confused, and they pour their feelings onto Prudy, Margo, and the rest.

It’s better than a psychology textbook, and fertile ground for giving your character a believable background for who they are in your story. I'll even say that some of the questions they ask can trigger storylines and subplots.

I’ll leave you with a very appropriate advice vlog from Dear Prudence.


What do YOU think the writer should do? And (a bonus question for writers and curious minds) can you see a story here?

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Speaking of Hit or Missus, mark your calendars: This weekend, the Kindle version of my second Peri Minneopa Mystery will be free for the taking. I figure since Monday is Tax Day, I'd give everyone a break and let them have something for nothing. God knows the IRS won't.


  1. I love that you read advice columns for character traits! I few a few too, but mostly for my own amusement. I'll have to start taking notes.

  2. Snoopy stalker that I am, I'd never considered advice columns as fodder for character studies. Love it!

    Putting a dark spin on your virgin/viking story, I'm heading to a Criminal Minds kind of plot…

    Now I'm off to check out these online advice columns. Tres keel!

  3. The ones that inspire the most are the people who are completely and transparently manipulative in their quest for advice. They make the best villains!

  4. People watching is such a fun pastime. Advice columns is an excellent resource for character study. I'll keep that in mind, Gayle.


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