Title News

Hints on How to Create Characters

Sue Spitulnik

Did you ever ride a bus to school? It's not the bus that is important, nor the trip, it's your fellow students. If you didn't ride a bus, sit for a minute and go up and down the rows of your classroom, at different ages, and maybe from different schools. These school mates are the fodder for any character you want to include in any writing you may do. How so?

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a girl from my graduating class, who was the oldest of six children. I still think of her siblings as the "little kids" on the school bus because people you don't see don't tend to age in your mind. What does this have to do with creating characters? Well, her little sister who was always quiet is now way up in the administration of an Ivy League college. One of her brothers, who was always being silly, grew up to be the local convenience store owner in our home town and recently died of cancer. The point, when you want to write about a successful person in your story, you can use the personality of someone you knew back when.

I also have a WWII veteran friend who is now 84. I know him as a forgiving, genuine, organized, and loving man. But, when he tells his story of being a private during the war, he tells of getting into trouble for not following the rules, and for being too inquisitive to do what he was told, so wandered off when he shouldn't have and got separated from his company. He also tells of when his daughters were young and what shenanigans he and they got into that brought a few odd looks and reprimands from his wife/Mom. I believe his stories, but I can't quite picture the man I know doing them.

There is another man from my school years who was often in the principal's office for various reasons. He now owns a tech company, has two large homes, one on one of the Finger Lakes, and lots of adult boy toys; fancy cars, a cigarette boat, etc. If you had asked one of the teachers at the time, they would have responded, "He won't amount to much."

Another high school friend has become an internationally known dance choreographer and Kennedy Center Honor winner. He was one of 12 children and admitted in his autobiography that he wore the same pair of pants to school every single day in the sixth grade, because that's all he had.

And of course there is the girl that always knew the answers, was beautiful, and you expected would become something notable, but you now know she fell flat when the reality of life hit her head on.

When you sit down to write the next time, whether you are a plotter or pantser, feel free to design your own characters. They can be goofy teenagers who become self-made millionaires or they can be any combination of anybody you have ever known in your life and they will be believable because that is what exists in real life. Have at it without reservation. I give you permission if you need it.

Naming those characters is a whole other ball of wax. I tend to name mine after people I admire, have lost, or would like to be like.






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