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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Layers and Layers of Characterization

I wanted to title this post, "Truth is stranger than fiction" but before I could use that quote, I needed to 1--find out who said it and 2--make sure I had it correct. To be honest, I don't know who to credit the quote with because that's not the correct quote. The ever witty Mark Twain said “Truth is more of a stranger than fiction.” But that doesn't mean the same thing at all. So where did that quote come from? I don’t know. And I'm getting off task. This blog is a post about characterization. “Ogres are like onions…” Shrek told donkey. “…They have layers.” And so do the most interesting characters. But I have to tell you—all characters are interesting. The big burly biker, the blue haired, bingo playing granny, the metro/gay male BFF. They add reality to the story because we’ve seen these people. We know this granny, this friend, this biker. But it’s the layers, the parts underneath, that make them truly unique. For instance, the big burly biker collects Beanie Babies or is afraid of spiders. The blue haired granny has a black belt in karate or drag races on the weekends. And the gay BFF is bouncer at a night club and has more tattoos than natural skin. These traits make them interesting because they’re unexpected. {Disclaimer—I write funny and whimsical romance. Because of this, my characters cannot be too serious or take things too seriously. Even themselves. But a writer of more serious fiction might choose more serious traits to add depth to their characters.}

Interesting characters come out of the people we see everyday. I just watched a show—an entire one hour documentary, mind you—about the oldest bank robber. He was in his eighties when he started robbing banks. Let me just say, you can’t make this stuff up! J L Rountree once had everything. He lost it in the oil crash, then decided the only thing left to do was rob banks. He looked like my Popaw. Same black-framed glasses, same high-waisted pants, same cantankerous disposition. One time when Rountree was arrested (yes, he was arrested more than once and still continued his crime spree), he reprimanded the officer for pointing a gun at him. Rountree said, with incredulous disgust tainting his Texas drawl, “I have never, ever owned a pistol.” Here’s a man who just robbed a bank. Walked in and handed the teller an envelope with “Robbery” printed on it in big red letters, and he’s offended because the police officer thinks he might be armed? I’m still shaking my head over that one. And with a smile on my face. It seems that bank robbers—like onions and ogres—have layers too, and that’s a layer even I didn't see coming.

So where is the line between truth and fiction? You tell me.


  1. Great post. I want to watch Stranger than Fiction now.

  2. Great post, Amie. Interesting, thought provoking. I need to think on this. :)

  3. I think a lot of people are too darn serious to see the humor in everyday life. Thank heavens we're writers and see the humor in everything, (sometimes at the most inappropriate times).

  4. Off the Keyboard has become one of my favorite blogs! Love yours and Sarah's takes on life and writing!