Borrowing from Reality

Originally, I wanted to put a lot more work into this post, but a sinus infection has robbed me of a week so there will be a second part to this post next week.  However, this cursed infection has given me material, real life material, which is what this post is supposed to be about, so here we go.

Every fiction author wants their story to have characters realistic enough to hold the reader.  For main characters, this is paramount; this is who your readers are sharing the adventure with.  To accomplish this, I recommend you steal liberally from your own experience.

I recently saw a doctor who seemed confident, smiled, shook my hand before washing his, sat on his rolling chair and listened to me describe all my symptoms, made eye contact as he asked me a series of questions about my symptoms even though I just covered all that.  These traits are boring – common.  However, he had two traits which I think would set off flags in people’s minds as to what type of doctor he is: he always said “I see” after every statement I said, and he didn’t describe anything about the medicines he prescribed me – he really was going to boot me out the door without explaining what I was supposed to be taking.  With just a few lines of dialogue and using these two traits alone, I can have a doctor who sparks interest with the reader.  With just a few tweaks in the dialogue, I can make him the anal doctor without time for his patients or the absent-minded doc who would like to go home to deal with some personal issue.

Right now, as stated earlier, I have a sinus infection (the reason for my doctor’s visit).  This is new ground for me as I have had many of the symptoms before, but not all at once and not this bad.  So, now in misery, I have material.  It isn’t just the pain I can describe (pressure, stuffy nose, sore throat, pressure, nose bleeds, chills, pressure) because that just gives the ailment, but the thoughts going along with my condition give personality.  On Sunday, I wanted to put my head in my wood vice and crank away, and yesterday, I would loved to have taken a drill to my left eyebrow and maybe also to the left side of my nose.  Someone who has had a sinus infection before is probably going to relate to my pain, but my reaction to the pain, my thoughts, tell something unique about me as a person: I know woodworking tools.  I never said I was a woodworker, but I hope most of you would think I am just from dreams of how to deal with the pressure.

So, in a fairly bad week, I have come up with some ideas for future character development.  I would encourage you, bad week or good, observe everything you can.  Don’t just look at others, but examine yourself as well.  Find what clicks; find what sticks.  Practice.  Get feedback.  Observe more.

Actions can show a character’s course through an event, dialogue can pass along information, and thoughts can fill in gaps, but finding the correct traits will give personality and history.  Whenever you get a chance, borrow from reality.

About R. Garrett Wilson

I am a member of the Stanislaus World Builders writing group and have participated in the FSFW writing group. I have written one drama that was based on the book of Mark and performed at my church in 2007. My story, Journeyer, is published in Analog Magazine and a novelette, The Bakrra Encounter, in the FSFW 2010 anthology, I Dreamed a Crooked Dream. I also took part in the community novel project, Stanislaus Reads and Writes, and have a chapter in their novel, Ashes in a Teardrop. Beyond writing, I enjoy road trips, photography, woodworking, watching tennis and cycling, and reading.
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6 Responses to Borrowing from Reality

  1. Isn’t people watching fun? I do it all the time.

    Sorry to hear about your sinus infection. No fun.

    So I left you an award over at my blog if you want it. :)

    • Yeah, I love people watching too. Most of the time I just pay attention to the people I interact with, but sometimes I am on a mission for one of my characters. I have to be very discrete because, for some reason, people seem to get nervous when they know a 6’2″ guy is following them around. :)

      Thanks for the award. When I recover a bit more, I will see what you left me. And you’re right, this is no fun.

  2. roh morgon says:

    Wow – what a cool analysis!

    I do admit that my life experiences definitely leak over into my writing. But my observations of people tend to slip into my characters subliminally. I need to pay a little closer attention so that I can expand the database of charater traits that’s in my head.

    Very cool post. Although I know you’re miserable with your cold, it looks like the introspection you gained from it might be a kind of tradeoff. However, I think I’ll try to avoid this method (getting sick) of improving my writing!

    BTW, check out my blog to pick up an award I gave you…

    • I leak things into my characters without noticing (until after the fact) as well. I think that is just part of human nature.

      Thanks for the award – I’m starting to get a collection; I need to get better soon so I can acknowledge them and their presenters properly.

  3. Myrna Foster says:

    Thanks for the cool insight. I like watching people too.

    I hope your starting to feel better.

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