Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bob Newhart & Harriet the Spy

You ever go somewhere with a friend, encounter somebody peculiar, and then make the comment, ‘that guy sure is a character’? Who knows, you may say that about your friends or family. Maybe they say that about you. What a character!

I drove back from Austin yesterday with a co-worker, Toni. We stopped at a local diner off the interstate and encountered the spitting image of Bob Newhart (an actor), complete with mannerisms. ‘Bob’ was actually the proprietor, a retired lawyer. If pseudo-Bob hadn’t had so many stories about Texas, I’d have insisted it was him. I can still hear Bob Newhart’s voice in my head this morning. Whatever. You’ll probably identify with this next cliché as it fits – he was a ‘bigger than life’ figure.

It made me think if I had any characters like that in my book. Characters so full of life and identifiable that we immediately label them, as well, uhh … characters! I won’t go into what I think makes a good character today, but I’m sure you’d agree with me that we know one when we see one. Readers know one when they read a novel, too. I’m sure all sorts of lovable (and hated) fictional characters come to mind. If you can think of a good one, post it in the comments for us.

Here’s a challenge – start a ‘character’ journal. If you meet one of these folks, take time later that day to try and capture their essence on paper. It’s an exercise that I’m going to work through this year as I try to become better at making characterizations. Oh, and don’t be a “Harriet the Spy” and characterize your family and friends (a little friendly advice – it could backfire). If anyone else has any other good exercises for learning how to characterize characters, post a comment for us.

Have a good weekend!


  1. When I think of fictional "characters", Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With the Wind) comes to mind. I find that I get so angry with her ("what is she thinking?!"), but at the same time I'm drawn to her. She's quite complex: she thinks she knows what she wants, but in the end, what she wanted she already had--and lost. Or, perhaps all she ever really cared about was herself.

  2. Scarlett O'Hara is definitely one of fiction's most vibrant characters. What is interesting about her is that as a reader, you don't always feel the same emotions that she does. In fact, many times, it's the exact opposite as Scarlett can be rather exasperating. I think a writer gains depth to their story by being able to offer their reader such a character.