Tag Archives: characters

Tap into Real-Life Rigidity for Characters

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ve figured out that I’m an old guy (72) with a very young and active mind. The nice thing about being my age is you have a depth of experience and people to draw on.

Now, I’m not the type of writer who bases my characters totally on real-life individuals (well, there was one). Rather, I usually travel one of two routes.

Either I take particular characteristics from different people and combine them to make the character I need for the plot; or, I choose the general gestalt of a particular person and use that to generate the character’s motivations.

Case in point for gestalt: In my first year in graduate school, I met “Joe.” During our brief acquaintance, he liked to play a WWII board game. I soon discovered that he always wanted to play the German side in the games. Why? Because he loved the Nazis, in particular, their ruthless nature toward any enemy. He flat-out admired that quality which, needless to say, sent chills down my spine.

The odd thing was that Joe considered himself objective and thought everyone should look at life in an objective manner. Emotion shouldn’t count. Of course, every time he won a game he was highly emotional and, at the same time, self-satisfied and smug because it proved his contention that objectivity made him a winner. Joe never saw the irony of such cognitive dissonance, much less the impossibility of living a life without emotion. Such individuals seldom do…which means they’re excellent characters for murder mysteries but people you avoid in real life!

That’s because their rigid certainty in their ideology makes it inevitable that they’re going to hurt somebody along the way – and you don’t want to be in their path when that happens. It’s much safer to deal with the “Joes” of the world by making them fictional characters!

So, I’ve used Joe’s gestalt as the basis for several antagonists in both my murder mystery and in my science fiction series.