What a Character

Growing up, my life was like one of Bill Cosby’s old stand-up routines, thanks to my older brother. He liked to annoy me by snooping for, and reading, my diary or barging in my room without knocking.


I complained to our parents, and he was given the edict, “Stay out of your sister’s room.” So instead, he stood in the hallway outside of my room, wiggling his hand at the doorway.

“I’m not in your room,” he said, in the smug way twelve-year-olds have. He was an expert at pushing my buttons. I longed to be an only child like my best friend.

Now, you might ask, “Why didn’t you slam the door in his face?” That never occurred to my ten-year-old mind. It was far easier to watch the hand wiggling and then scream, “Mooooooooooom! He’s got his hand in my room!!!!”

When I wasn’t annoyed by my brother (and there were a few minutes during the day in which I was spared the aggravation), a three-legged German shepherd sometimes gave me (and my best friend) grief on the way to school. I don’t recall how the dog wound up missing a leg. (Um, I had nothing to do with it.) The fact that the dog wasn’t exceptionally fast, and was all bark and no bite, made no difference. We still ran from him.

The dog’s owner was a boy in my fourth grade class who lived a block away. Oddly enough, we became friends later. I won his respect when he flung a grasshopper at me, but I didn’t blink. When I showed him my collection of grasshoppers in a glass jar (I was a strange child; at least the jar’s lid had holes), he deflated somewhat. After that, he invited me to his birthday parties. And his dog only occasionally chased me, for old time’s sake, I guess.


So, why am I reminiscing now? Because I’m evaluating the characters in one of my works in progress—whether there are enough characters who push my main character’s buttons as much as my brother pushed mine. I don’t mean the antagonist; his doing so is a given. I mean family and friends. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. But do I show that enough? I’m also wondering if anyone approaches the level of quirkiness exhibited by the boy down the street and his three-legged dog.

They (whoever they are) also say that truth is stranger than fiction. But does it have to be? Not if I can pepper my story with characters just as vivid as the characters in my life. Now, that would give my story some much needed spice.

What part do the characters in your life play in your fictional world? How do they add richness to the terrain?

Grasshopper photo from Wikipedia.


38 thoughts on “What a Character

  1. Love this, Linda. Your description of your brother and how he plagued you is hilarious! My characters are definitely based on real-life people. Sometimes, a character may be a combination of several people rolled into one. I’m going to write a story one day based on a comment one of my fourth grade students made in my class one day, and the character will surely be based on this child. We had indoor recess because of the weather, and this particular student was a little guy with a very deep voice. His comment to me, as he looked up from his playing: “I collect dead batteries.”

    • What a great line, Sharon! And what a character! You’ll do so much with that. Some kids beg to be immortalized in books!

      Some of my characters are combo-characters. But I don’t include enough of their rough spots–the parts that rub other characters wrong.

  2. Must admit that because I worked overseas a lot I met characters from almost every nationality and status in life so I find it easy to relate to fictional characters, especially those with odd quirks.

    The emotionless characters are uninteresting, but those with quirks are great, even if those quirks are a little strange, it humanises and often endears them to readers I think 🙂

    • I think so too. I’ve kept my stories a little too tidy, mainly out of laziness. Upping the ante on conflict means having to clean up when things get messy. But, as you said, quirks humanize them. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. This is great, Linda! You brought back many memories of the battles my older sister and I used to have. I even pushed her down the stairs one day after reaching my breaking point. 🙂 She didn’t get hurt…thankfully. I think a quirky character can make a story more memorable.

    • Thanks, Jill. Isn’t it amazing that we survive childhood? My brothers and I had our pushing moments too. We firmly believed in getting even. Now I can’t imagine life without either of them.

      Um, is your sister a character in any of your stories?

  4. Wow, this reminds me so much of growing up with my younger brother. I never believed my mom when she said we’d be friends when we grew up. Also, this dog my husband had when we got married… she used to do the hand in the doorway thing, but it was sneaking paws into the kitchen after I told her to stay out. 🙂

    I think adding characters like that makes a story’s world so much richer. Yes, you need the big challenges, but when characters with small parts can really be themselves and be real rather than just acting as props to support the protagonist, it makes things unpredictable and real.

    • Isn’t that funny, Kate, how many of us have stories like these? I also have a younger brother. Yet, this was one of those ah-ha moments for me. Since I returned to a novel I began years ago, I realized I don’t include the annoying sibling moments. I thought I had enough conflict with the antagonist. But I need both.

      That dog you mentioned sounds awesome. That reminds me of a video I saw online somewhere. The owners were convinced that the dog knew how to open the screen door in order to sneak out. So they set up a video camera. Sure enough. The dog let himself in and out!

      • Man, that dog HATED me. I used to joke that she was Cinder-ugly and I was her evil stepmother. Seriously, she was hideous (and also very smelly), but she and my husband loved each other, so I lived with her. She never did anything like opening a door, but she’d lie right in the doorway when I was in the kitchen, and then one paw would land on the floor… and then her nose… and then oops, she’d roll right in.

        She knew where the treats were. 😉

      • If you had to put up with the dog, he should read your book regardless of the dog being in it or not! He brought you crab legs, so he can read your book too!

  5. As funny as this may sound, I’ve actually been missing a post of yours! They’re very enjoyable to read. Great to have this. I love stories like that.

    You know, I believe Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction only because fiction has to make sense.”

    Just a thought.

  6. How funny! Never thought to put any sibling rivalry in any of my books, I may have to start adding some flashbacks to my main character’s childhood past.

    I have tried to incorporate people from real life into my book, because he acted like he’d just popped out of a fiction book anyway by the weird stuff he sometimes did, but I had a beta reader who told me he came off as a creep and I needed to get rid of him. So now I’m hesitant to add real life stuff, lest someone says it ruins the story line.

    • Well, Briana, some characters work out and some don’t. But I hope that doesn’t discourage you! I cut a twin brother out of the novel I finished, because of a reader’s advice. Now I’m glad the twin is gone. The plot wouldn’t have worked with him.

      Do you think maybe the character you cut out of your book needs his own story?

      • Of course, I agree with you. And I didn’t cut him, because two other readers liked his character. And he’s only in the book for two chapters before he’s killed to hurt the main character, but I though he was a jolly, likeable fellow, in the book and in real life.

    • Phillip, I hear you. Living with siblings makes you realize what being human is all about. I can see why politicians get nervous when siblings are interviewed. 🙂

  7. Wow, if the writing in your fiction is as vivid as you wrote about your childhood then I don’t think you have anything to worry about. I definitely borrow mannerisms and speech patterns from people in real life … so far they haven’t noticed or haven’t minded.

    • Thanks, Alison! And that’s the way to do it! That way, you can totally deny everything if they call attention to the similarities. Like I plan to. “Um, your name is Blythe and you have an eye patch on your left eye. The character’s name is Flythe and has an eye patch on her right eye. There’s a big difference.”

  8. Here’s one for ya: When I was in middle school, my little sister once hid in my closet when I had a friend sleeping over. She actually sat with pen and paper and took notes on our boy gossip. She had to have been in there for at least an hour before we caught her and only because she shifted and made some hangers bang against the door. Siblings are evil.

    • Okay, that’s horrible. And what was she planning on doing with that info? Blackmail? Does she have a career in surveillance now? And I thought my younger brother’s mimicking and constantly following me around were bad! Is the main character in your urban fantasy a detective like your sister?

      • LOL, I think her tactics were more expose journalist than detective or spy. I honestly think she just wanted to aggravate me… so mission accomplished.

      • I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it’s a wonder we survive childhood. Perhaps I should amend this to “it’s a wonder our siblings survive childhood.”

  9. I’d almost rather have flat work than all the emotional drama in my life, peace than brutal insight/lesson after the next. Even the most boring works have an audience. Nothing like a little bit of happiness. Non….worry, offense, concern, turn-offness. But I do know what you’re saying, it’s more fun to watch the protagonist get his or her wire tripped, because everyone recognizes it and can identify.

    Interesting post!

  10. Found the image of the hand wiggler very funny!
    Also-when I was a postman, the following entries featured in our accident book:
    ‘Slipped on frozen piss.’
    ‘Bitten by a three legged dog’.
    That particular postie got some ribbing-“How did a three legged dog catch you?” He said as it attacked him he was trying to kick its one front leg from under it.
    All stories I can use!

    • What a great story! So you were a postman? You have to write a story about that adventure! Now I’m thinking of the book The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. 🙂

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