Borrow from Reality, Part II

I started this topic over a month ago and I never dreamed it would take so long to get back to it.

For this post, you can take what you like and apply it how you want, but I am thinking of side characters – one-time only characters and maybe some infrequent reoccurers (yes, I made that word up for this blog).  For these guys, I would recommend you steal liberally from your own experience, people you observe, and people you read about.  But don’t look at every behavior; these aren’t your main characters, look at the behaviors that will define a character in just a few words.

The July 7th week had a couple enlightening news stories… human stories: 

Sacramento Bee ran a story initially advertised as “Hot Tub Hero” and was formally titled “Neighbor in hot tub spots blaze, saves Elk Grove families.”  This story showed a side of humanity we can really get behind, be proud of.  This guy sees an explosion, tells someone to call 911, races to both houses to wake the sleeping residents, then takes a garden hose and battles with the fire so much that me loses the hair on his right arm.  Then he had some humble remarks, “Just being neighborly,” “It’s just fate that I was in that hot tub and happened to be looking in that direction,” and “You would’ve done the same thing if you’d seen a fire.” 

CNN ran a sad story about a woman who, two years ago, accidentally left her baby in a car, “Tragedy in the backseat: Hot-car deaths.”  The story was from her viewpoint, a viewpoint I don’t here often.  Beyond her own grief and guilt, she talked about how her family handled the situation and the charges which were filed against her.

The week of August 4th, there was another great human story:

The Daily News reported about a gunman’s girlfriend dealing with the aftermath: “Kristi Hannah, girlfriend of Omar Thornton, recalls gunman’s goodbye, racism concerns.”  This is an article that shows the dynamics of a relationship, while giving your glimpses of both the boyfriend and girlfriend.

Right now, there are enough articles about Shaquan Duley to make a fairly good character profile/sketch/outline/whatever you want to call it.  She killed two of her three children to be “free.”  From these stories, you can see her life three years ago, before those two children were born.  You can see her life change, and know about the lectures she was receiving.  Then, you read her own words about how and why she took her children’s lives.

In each of these stories, there is enough detail and dialogue to base a character.  Maybe not a main character, but a side character – an interesting, dynamic side character.

Now, if I were doing a crime novel with a PI or detective, I could make a scene where there was a mother who, intentionally or unintentionally, kills some of her children.  A humble bystander saves the last of the children from this event.  Plus, there is the reaction of the spouse afterwards.  You have a nice set of scenes for your detective to walk through, setting up his/her personality for the remainder of the novel.

Whenever possible, 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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3 Responses to Borrow from Reality, Part II

  1. PD Wright says:

    LOL, well, I can’t complain about how long it took you to get back to your blog myself, I’m WAY behind.

    I think reading the newspaper is awesome for ideas – you don’t even have to make it a big part of the story – have a friend of one of the main characters save a family from a burning building. You could have your character jealous of the attention he’s getting, or even notice he’s getting a big head for being a local hero.

    Some of my favorite news stories are about lotto winners years after the jackpot. You could have one of your characters have a friend that is always broke and have it come out that they once won the lottery and spent everything (a common trend with lotto winners).

    Anyway, borrowing from reality is something most of us do instinctively, but doing it consciously can be a fun way to add interest to our stories.

  2. I need to read the paper more often. Wow, these would be great side characters. I definitely borrow from reality, but usually from my own life and people I know (like my hilarious kids).

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