How To Create Realistic Characters

Hot and sexy characters win out

How does life differ from fiction, you may find yourself asking yourself. The most common answer I’ve heard at least is that fiction has to make sense, life does not. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of novel writing are the characters and what do you do with them.

We can gain insight into our characters by looking within ourselves.

As the Greek gods are doing in the photograph, we must look within ourselves to find something we can believe in.

Not only must we find the character, but we also have to build him, create his life much like God created Adam out of clay, for indeed we are playing at god when we write. And as we play at god, we should make sense of the lives we create. I mean they can’t just start begetting people. They are not to be taken on faith, because faith has no place in fiction. They must be drawn from within our own souls.

Hemingway said, “…Whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about.” And then when we do that, we can make them real.

Truth is the most important part of writing. For, as Mark Twain once said, “If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.” How true. For example, in literature at least you shouldn’t have your killer do some good deed like save a tiny bird from a cat, and have him in the next chapter, mutilate a young woman and enjoy it. You could have him love and cherish his pet birdie, only to cook it alive in the next chapter. That would be cool.

James Campbell
LONDON – APRIL 20: James Patterson, the best selling author in the world, attends The London Book Fair 2009 at Earls Court on April 20, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

Building an outline often helps. Starting from the bones, and adding flesh. James Patterson works religiously with this method. There is a man I admire greatly. I actually know him on a personal level. I once took his online course in the Master Class series, “James Patterson Teaches Writing,” and I felt a personal connection. He actually talked to me, though like on TV he couldn’t see me, but I could see him. 

That’s the truth.

If Writing Were Like Eating Pies, We'd All Be Doing It!

Writing is like eating pies; sometimes it’s all you can think of.

“So you like pies, do you?”

When asked what it takes to be a good writer, Ernest Hemingway said, “A lousy childhood.”

He is also quoted in a great book, The Green Hills of Africa, p. 22, as saying this:

“All modern American Literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called, Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating.

“But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

He’s being modest of course. Hemingway fits right in there between “before,” and “since.” I personally can think of two authors who fit into the “since” category. One is Cormac McCarthy, and the other is Kurt Vonnegut. American, mind you – and since I am telling this story, no others count.

So before anyone can write a book, a short story, or a sentence, they have to read, read, read. A good place to start is with any book I have written. Since they pale in comparison to any of the authors I’ve just mentioned, I won’t look too bad. But seriously. Start with Huck Finn. Twain is Shakespeare simplified. Reading should not feel like you are reading, and that is what Twain does.

After Twain, Ernest is right. There is a void in American lit. And then came, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s third novel about a soldier and his love of a nurse he meets while being treated in a hospital during WWI. Hemingway’s art is in his dialogue. He has a style of writing so different from anybody before or since. If you were to write like him today, it would be difficult to get published. It’s tough enough, and today’s editor, trained in today’s educational system, would not know what to do with it.

Kurt Vonnegut, with The Sirens of Titan, writes in his own genre. He talks of his early years when publishers wanted to place him in the science fiction genre. But they were wrong. While a lot of his storylines were of a fantastic theme, he wrote about the human tragedy. But he did it in a philosophically humorous way. And with a sardonic twist which always leaves us smiling. And if we read it again and maybe once more, we may get it.

Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, is written with a reality and truthfulness that makes us think. I guess you can call it “literature.”

The Road pulls us into the mind of a man tortured in a post-apocalyptic world with the task of keeping his son alive in hopes of finding a place where good might still trump the evil that has taken over the few humans left alive, where life, as it was, might still be. A place where mankind hasn’t been stripped of civilization – that outer shell that binds us to what Spinoza referred to when he suggested that God has determined the universe down to the last detail.

McCarthy’s protagonist holds the belief that God still exists regardless of the lack of civilization. He is put to the test – down to his last breath. It is one of the few books that literally left me crying. Not because of its philosophy, but because of McCarthy’s ability to put it into words.

Images from The Road

What tells of a good author is what McCarthy did in this book. He did all this, told a story and never once does he explain what caused the apocalyptic event that ended life as we know it. And you know, I don’t remember asking that question either. He told his story through his frank and simple prose. 

That answers the question; “What does it take to be a writer?”

AESCHYLUS, The Tears of The Heliades (pronounced: hel-ee-a-deez)

Originally published in March 2016

The Heliades are Greek Nymphs, the seven daughters of Helios, God of the sun, and the Okeanid (Nymphs who presided over the natural water sources of the Earth) Klymene. They also had a son, Phaethon, who pleaded with his father to let him drive his chariot across the sky. Helios reluctantly agreed and Phaethon lost control of the horses and drove too close to the earth, scorching it. Zeus struck him down with a thunderbolt to stop the destruction, and Phaethon fell to his death in the River Eridanos. His sisters, the Heliades, gathered there to mourn him, and when they cried, Zeus turned them into trees. The trees cry still, shedding golden drops of sap that turn to amber when they fall.

The year is 1980, and Harry Thursday is about to be drawn into another thrilling adventure. He has come out of retirement and has been working on a tiny Greek island resurrecting the decrepit Temple of Zeus there.

Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania, his uncle falls to his death at the Harrisburg train station, an accident they call it, and Harry is called back to the states by the uncle’s attorney, a sexy intelligent lawyer with a few secrets of her own, who is counsel to some very wealthy clientele.

When the police mention to Harry that a small piece of amber was found lodged in the dead man’s throat, Harry’s fears grow. Soon, Harry’s time on Earth is becoming tenuous

This is the subject of the 3rd Harry Thursday novel, which if I can stop delaying, will be finished before the end of the year.

Stay Tuned!!!