Words of Life For Characters

Did you ever read or write a character who was well put-together, but just laid there on the table and wouldn’t live? Like, “Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it!

Well, you know what I always say — okay one of the things I always say — “Everything is about writing.”

So, it should come as no surprise to hear that I picked up a useful tool for helping bring those imaginary critters to life during the sermon at church yesterday.

It was about wise men and women to whom people would make pilgrimages. People would go to these wise guys and say, “Give me a word to live by.” One word the pastor quoted was, “Ah!” and another was the phrase, “Thank you.” The idea was that one would live with this “word to live by” in one’s heart and mind. One would approach everything in life with that attitude and view everything from that perspective.

So I thought it might be useful, whenever I’m poking at some creature on the slab, to give him or her a word to live by and see what happened. It would be a start, or possibly a necessary layer or key. Some kind of useful tool, anyway.

One could begin by thinking about a strong character in literature or movies or television and seeing if one could identify the word that character lives by, then go on to one’s own (one hopes) successful characters. Like:

Leroy Jethro Gibbs: justiceBertie Wooster: honor
Bud Blossom: Idiots!

Like that. Could be surprising. The word could change over the course of a story, or the character’s understanding of it could change, or the reader’s understanding of it could change.

Worth a try.



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I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Words of Life For Characters

  1. Jane

    January 14, 2013 at 10:00am

    I like your examples. This is a terrific idea!

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