Character Questions

My friends surprised me last night by asking questions about the writing process. They were interested in how I come up with characters (and whether I ever used people that I know as the basis), and how I know when a book was finished.

Coming up with characters isn’t difficult. Some people do huge sketches of the characters before they start, detailing everything possible about the character. I don’t, although I’ve tried doing that, because that’s what I read a writer should do. I don’t do it before I start, but I will do a physical appearance at some point to keep matters aligned. I usually also develop their backstory so that I’m aware of who they are, and document that, again, to keep matters aligned, but I don’t usually do these things until after the character has been introduced.

The thing is, when I introduce the characters, I know their general personality and behavior patterns, whether they’ll be optimistic, sullen, joyful, belligerent, dismissive, etc. All of them are composites. I do lean heavily on people I know in to establish a guide about how the character will think and behave, but the characters don’t share a physical appearance or name with the real people. Usually, too, I use more than one acquaintance as the character’s foundation. One acquaintance will be the guidance for political views while another provides the guidance for religious views, and another will be the foundation for attitudes about eating and exercising, etc.

Like people, each character exists on multiple spectra regarding how they think and act. The spectra are about the facets of life. Everything we think about and do exists on their own spectra, in my mind. I’ve noticed how people behave while driving vice their behavior in personal relationships and work relationships, their politics, and so on. I’ll often notice differences about their behavior. Naturally, I notice the same about myself. I know what I think and then do, sometimes surprising myself by my whims and impulses. Sometimes I rationalize that action, and sometimes I’m clueless about why I thought one way and did another.

I’ll decide, in a fashion, how much they slide along their spectra. Again, this is a reflection of what I think I see in people. I think of these spectra as one hundred point sliding scales. Zero means people won’t deviate on their spectrum. As you can imagine, that’s somewhat rare. Most people known to be true will still have a slight variation, recognizing that adhering to absolutes are difficult. And although someone might be low on the scale in their personal relationships, meaning they can be trusted in confidence, they can be high on the scale in other relationships, such as work, and thus, be considered less trustworthy.

I didn’t share all this with them, of course. That would be TMI and cruel, in a sense. They don’t need to know it. But their questions prompted the thinking, so I felt the urge to write about it to help me understand it.

As far as when the novel is finished, I begin with a sense of an ending when I first start on the concept. As with the concept, the ending changes and shifts as it develops, becoming sharper and clearer as the concept becomes clarified and the story lines and character arcs develop substance. The ending I want will often strike hot and hard in the middle of the writing process. I have no problem writing that sketch-up, knowing that the words will be changed, and some of the substance will be modified. But it gives me a firmer goal.

Sometimes, I find that that ending is wrong, that I missed, because the story took unexpected swings. That’s not a worry, but another challenge to put on my writing hat and find a new ending. In any case, from the writing process, I find an understanding of an ending that satisfies me, the reader.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. After finishing writing the novel, I read, edit, and revise it, and while doing that, I’ll adjust the ending as I think needs to be done.

Will I change it based on others’ input? I can’t say yes or no. First, it depends on the input. Readers find different things in books, especially if it’s a complex work. That’s great. I have a hope about what they’ll take away from my novels when I write them, but it’s based on what I wanted to find as a reader. So, I bear in mind that I’m writing for myself first. If their input finds appeal in me, then I’ll work with it.

Enough. I understand what I think. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

The Friend Dream

I dreamed I was working for a friend. He was unreasonable and kept getting shunned by co-workers. Then he’d be fired and get hired elsewhere.

This happened multiple times. I’d always end up working for him again. We’d always be working in a clean, modern office environment, much like the ones I worked in in Atlanta and Foster City. Realizing what was happening to him, I started avoiding him. This often entailed me going around the hallways to avoid him, but the hallways formed a square, so he could turn around and confront me. Further, a co-worker who also worked for him informed on me.

At last, though, seeing that the inevitable was happening again and deciding that I wanted to break the cycle, I stole into the office, grabbed my gear, and ran out. Hearing him calling me in another hallway, I changed direction and quickened my pass. The co-worker spotted me and called to my friend. I found a stairwell and hustled into it.

Although I was now in the stairwell, I witnessed the co-worker tell my friend what I’d done, and then heard my friend tell her, “If that’s how he wants to play it, I’ll just cut him off.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but deciding that I needed to get away, I raced down the the steps and  out the building. As I left the building, I heard him shouting from the door. Looking back, I saw him waving at me.

The dream ended.

The thing is, I worked for this guy several times. We’d worked together in one place and then sought me out and lured me to another place. I enjoyed working for him. He was intelligent, insightful, patient, and good-natured, with good communication skills.

The dream is something to ponder as I go about things today.


Floofercise (floofinition) – exercise achieved by interaction with a housepet; exercise routines used by housepets.

In use: “Every day, the young orange cat walked up to the person when she emerged from the bedroom and mewed in greeting, and then jumped into a floofercise routine, galloping around the room as though an invisible rider had applied spurs to the cat.”

Thursday’s Theme Music

Walking before writing, heading toward the coffee shop, almost there, I checked my steps and saw 5150. Oh, Van Halen, I thought, which was an immediate invitation for my mind to begin streaming in songs from 5150 (1986).

This was the first album with Sammy Hagar as the lead vocalist, replacing David Lee Roth. I remember that a friend hadn’t like either singer for the band. He thought Roth was too flamboyant and his skills didn’t impress him. However, Sammy Hagar wasn’t the answer in my buddy’s mind because, with Sammy, Van Halen performed softer rock. I recall trying to suggest other vocalists to him, like Ronnie James Dio. We didn’t come up with a new singer.

I never saw him again as our military tours completed and we went separate ways. I always wondered what he thought of Gary Cherone as the singer.

Here’s “Why Can’t This Be Love”.



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