Saturday, March 12, 2011

Characters, Characters Everywhere

by Vivian Zabel

         A story or novel must have characters, but where does a writer find unique characters who can bring writing to life?

         Recently I read a discussion about the difficulty in finding and developing characters in writing. I had to laugh because I nearly fall over characters begging to be included in stories and books, even if they don't realize it.

         After spending nearly a month in a facility that includes rehab (which I needed after surgery), I have a list of characters that can be used in various ways. All I had to do was jot down some details to use later.

         This facility as four halls and cares for residents who need skilled nursing, rehab, and special care, as well as those who live here permanently because they can't live on their own. The list includes those like me who are here for rehabilitation due to injury, surgery, or stroke to those who can't remember who they are or where they are. Allow me to share some "characters" that may well appear in one of my writings some day.

         An example of courage and determination is a man I'll call BJ. The bear of a man, recovering from a stroke, has lived here for over three months. When I first arrived, he had made little to no visible progress in being able to talk or use correct words. His eyes, under bushy gray brows, appeared lost and confused. In therapy, he struggled to find words that he knew he should know. No matter how discouraged he may be, he kept trying and trying and trying. His delight, when shown a pen, at being able to say "Pen" caused a smile to crease his face. Lifting a foot an inch off the floor became a major achievement.

         Humor can be found, too. One resident has Alzheimer's. A force to be reckoned with, ninety-five-year-old "Granny" can covered more ground faster with her walker than most nimble young people can running. However, she pulls some frustrating, yet so funny, stunts. One day she kept walking off without her walker and had to be reminded to get it. I'd witnessed two incidents earlier in the day and was returning to my room after a walk. "Granny" came out of her room without her walker.

         I asked, "Where's your walker?"

         "I don't know" was the response.

         "Go back in your room and get your walker."

         She turned around and entered the room, muttering all the time. In seconds she was back in the hall with her walker. She walked up to me and said, "She told me to go get my walker. She made me go back in my room to get my walker." I struggled to keep from laughing as she fast-walked away from me. She hadn't even remembered I was the one who told her.

         A nurse asked if they could hire me, but I refused. No way could I survive keeping up with "Granny."

         My advice for finding characters is to look around. Notice the people we see and hear. Keep notes. Then when the occasion arises, insert them in our writings. I carry a small pad with me and a pen or pencil at all times. I have notes that include bits of dialog, character traits, stances, ways of walking and of talking. I'm ready to use characteristics found all around me.

Vivian Zabel


  1. Good advice. I also keep either a notepad or even just a piece of paper folded up in my pocket and a pen. I'm a fastidious people watcher, observing all the time. That's where I get TONS of character and scene ideas.

    Marvin D Wilson

  2. I do, too, Marvin.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I'm losing it. I thought I'd commented on this this morning - instead, it served as a reminder to write Monday's post for your blog! Ha...

    Granny's quite a character; planning to work her into your next novel, Viv? Funny how she'd remember one thing, but not another, from the same time period exactly!

  4. That is an interesting story Viv. I've seen a couple posts in different blogs about trying to find stories and a writing group has mentioned how to find story ideas a number of times. Both baffle me a little because I can't imagine struggling for a character or a story. I have too many already and more come all the time.

    I get a number of my characters and novel ideas from dreams. When I'm awake is when I develop them from the flashes I get during slumber.

  5. Good advice. I find them everywhere. In church, at the supermarket and often in the doctors' waiting rooms. Because I am basically an illustrator who writes some of my picture books, my characters tend to take on a kind of wacky or humorous persona. If the little lady in the black berret who was phoning her bank from the doctors' waiting room could only see what she became.

    Thanks for sharing Vivian. I am sure your dreams will provide many more wonderful stories for us to enjoy.

  6. Thanks, everyone, for adding to the discussion about characters.

    Good thing Holly was reminded, huh? Ginger, I've seen the result of your taking real people and making them characters. What a wonderful talent. Hey, I even made it into one book.

  7. Vivian, you were the perfect choice for the librarian in that book! I get such a thrill out of it when people I know are the right choice for a character. It makes the story seem so real somehow.

  8. The world is filled with interesting characters. Some are more interesting than others. ;)