Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Taking a Risk: Gambling on Character

Tom and I were married one week before Christmas. A few weeks prior to our first anniversary, a married-into-the-family relative asked us to drive her to her parent’s house. It was roughly 100 miles away. We agreed. The plan was to drive her there, turn around, and drive home.

When we arrived, her parents insisted we stay for dinner. How nice of them.

Then they suggested that since it was dark, we spend the night and leave the next morning. Why not?

Late in the evening, our married-into-the-family relative’s family sat down to play a “friendly game of poker.”

“Do you play cards?” they asked.

“Sure, but we’ve never played poker.”

“No problem. We’ll teach you.”

They dumped a pitcher of pennies on the table and parceled them out to the whole family. “We use pennies instead of chips,” they said.

They taught us how to play poker. We each won a few hands and we lost several. When we were out of coins and it was time to go to bed, the patriarch of the family tallied everything up and announced that we owed him $5.00.

“What? We thought this was all in fun.”

“Let that be a lesson to you,” he said. He demanded our money. Tom reluctantly pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it over. All the money we had to get home.

We went to the room assigned to us, slept with one eye open, and left before breakfast the next morning. Lesson learned.

Often, as writers, we start our story thinking we know our characters. We have an idea of what they look like, their age, and a bit about their background. We try to think of habits or speech patterns that will set them apart. How she bites her lower lip when she’s uncertain or how he tends to frown when he’s thinking.
Graphic Courtesy of Scholastic
via Google Images

Sometimes our characters surprise us. They speak up when we didn’t expect them to have anything to say. They offer insight we didn’t know they possessed. Sometimes they prove to be self-centered or deceitful when all along, we thought they were wonderful people living out a wonderful life in the pages of our book.

We’re surprised when our protagonist’s legs turn to Jello in the face of a problem. She was so strong and confident in the early pages. We don’t like our antagonist…never have. So when he makes a sweet gesture or we learn of his troubled past, we have a strong desire to forgive him. Of course he then rears his ugly self once more under the scrutiny of our pen and we slide back into the assurance that all is as it should be.

I love the way characters take on a life of their own as I type. I love to see how they take charge of the story and twist it until it suits them. It’s a gamble to write freely and give the characters space to grow. It is likely to require a serious red pen effort to round them up, get them back in line, or cut them out of the story completely.

You take a chance and you walk away stronger for it. Lesson learned.

How do you develop your characters? Or better yet, what real-life characters do you “collect” to use one day in a story? What makes them interesting?

Thanks for visiting A Novel Creation today. I look forward to reading your comments.


  1. Becky, I love this post. I have been a non-fiction writer and since the narrative and characters are real people, they stay in line, for the most part. I just finished my first fiction novel. I was pretty certain I knew my characters well, but you're correct when you say they sometimes go off on their own path. I find that I have fallen in love with my male MC and don't want the story to end, so I'm working on the second book in a series. Pathetic, isn't it? LOL

    1. I love it! Those characters sometimes demand their own story be told! Way to go, Gloria. Can't wait to read your book.

  2. The point made about knowing characters in a novel is great. The point about knowing characters in life is priceless!


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