The Journal: Characterization: Just Don’t

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Some Quick Math
* Topic: Characterization: Just Don’t
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“It’s not a race. This writing business is one event where everybody who crosses the finish line wins. And then we get to start all over again. You just can’t beat that.” Dan Baldwin

Wow. I did some quick math yesterday just out of curiosity. Remember I offered to send you the rough Journal archives in PDF documents from 2014 through 2021?

I went back and added those up. Granted, they’re the rough originals, so every issue includes things I don’t include in my nonfiction daily word count (the title, the disclaimer, the cumulative totals, etc.). But overall, from October 19, 2014 through December 29, 2021 the rough archives contain 1,841,064 words and over 7 years of advice on writing.

The good news is, you can still get the archive if you want it, free of charge. Just email me at I’ll respond with two emails, one with four years of archives attached and another with three.

Of course, all the archives are my intellectual property © 2022. You may share them with your significant other. Under no circumstannces are you allowed to share them for a fee.

Topic: Characterization: Just Don’t

At the end of Garry Rodgers’ post on “Characterization” over on the Kill Zone blog, he asks, “What unique quirks have you embraced in your characters?” What he’s really asking is what unique traits and quirks you’ve assigned to your characters as you’ve constructed or created them. Hence the title of this post.

Garry is a good storyteller. I like to think if we lived closer we’d probably have a beer now and then. But in his TKZ post, which I included in “Of Interest” just in case you might get something out of it, he’s parroting some of the standard advice batted back and forth by new writers. I can practically guarantee you won’t find anything in it that you haven’t seen or heard before.

I used to teach a day-long seminar on character traits and quirks, what they are and how to use them to create characters. But I would never teach that seminar again or share the materials because I’ve learned a better way. The only way to experience authentic human beings is to relinquish control and allow them to be who they are.

I don’t invent characters anymore than I invent other human beings. I take both as they come.

The difference is, if a character does something stupid I can legally kill him. (grin) Well, officially I allow another character to kill him. Keeps everything out of the courts. But still.

Some would argue that characters aren’t real. But for me, “real” is defined by how much you know about someone. That’s much more important than a physical essense. So my characters are far more real to me than most actual, physical human beings are.

Consider, even among the humans I have actually encountered—from people I’ve only seen at the post office or gas station or Walmart to my neighbors and even to my friends and relatives—I generally don’t know much about them beyond their surface appearance. Your results, of course, might vary. But I’ll bet not.

All humans—even those we don’t know and have never met—are ostensibly living their lives, their stories, somewhere in the world. Billions of them.

At least that’s the rumor. And most of us believe those billions of people are real. But whether they actually exist is a collective assumption, isn’t it? Could you even testify in a court of law that they exist?

I couldn’t. I haven’t seen them. I haven’t heard them. I don’t know how they look, sound or smell. If they do exist, I don’t know who their friends or relatives are, what they like or love or dislike or hate. I don’t know what they believe or staunchly refuse to believe. So seriously, how “real” are they?

On the other hand, I could testify under oath on any of the above (and a great deal more) about my so-called fictional characters without the slightest fear of committing perjury.

As always, believe whatever you want to believe. But exactly like the human beings we imagine living all around the world, our characters are living their stories in a particular time and place. The difference is, we know our characters are real because we can actually look in on them as they live those stories.

As I write this, some of my characters are riding wild on good horses in what they see as a just cause in the 1890s in the Texas panhandle. Another group spent many years on what was supposed to be a generation ship voyaging through the Milky Way galaxy. Through a bit of good fortune, they are now on a new planet they named Terra 2 and are establishing colonies and living their lives.

Yet other characters are struggling through the Spanish civil war or being tunnel rats in Vietnam or working as for-hire killers. Others are solving crimes in southern Arizona or committing crimes in New York and Chicago.
Others are trying to figure out why there are odd, futuristic machines on that side of a bright, light-framed portal even though everything is “normal” on this side.

And still others are living their stories, living their lives, in various other times and places. And I get to witness any of that by simply choosing to look in on them.

I think I’ll go do that now.

Of Interest

See “10 Old English Words You Need to Be Using” at

See “Characterization” at

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Characterization: Just Don’t”

    • Ah, yes. I left “Numbers” in the table of contents. My mistake. In one of the past few Journals I mentioned I’m taking out the Numbers section.

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