Short Story Writing – Don’t try this at home! – Part 4

This is not a treatise, but a tongue in cheek, discussion on how to write short stories.   Suffice to say this is not the definitive way of doing it, just mine.  It works for me – it might not work for you.

You’ve got the place, now you want the who.

My main characters are quite often me.

Not the real me, because I’m boring.  No, those characters are what I would like to be, that imaginary superhuman that can do everything.

Until, of course, reality sets in, and the bullets start flying.  When that happens, we should be looking to run or at the very least get under cover, not walk into a hail of bullets, with a huge grin, staring down the enemy.

Hang on, that never happens except in superman comics.

What’s really needed here is a little vulnerability, a little humility and a lot of understanding, qualities at times I don’t have.

So, in order to create a more believable character, I start dragging traits from others I’ve met, or know, or really don’t want to know.  

In a writer’s environment, there are a plethora of people out there that you can draw on for inspiration.  I once spent and afternoon at a railway station just observing people.  Even now, I make observations, some of which are true, and others, wildly off course. 

I once tried to convince my other half that I could pick people’s traits, and we sat at a café outside a church in Venice.  I was lucky, I got more than 75% correct.

Other characters in my stories I have met along the way.

Like a piano player in a restaurant.  It was not so much the playing was bad, it was the way he managed to draw people into his orbit and keep them there.  The man has charisma, but sadly no talent for the instrument.

Like an aunt I met only twice in a lifetime, and who left a lasting impression.  Severe, angry looking, speaking a language I didn’t understand, even though it was English.  It was where I learned we came from England, and she was the closest thing I came to as an example of nineteenth-century prim and proper.  And, no, she didn’t have a sense of humour or time for silly little boys.

Like one of my bosses, a man of indeterminate age, but it had to be over 100, or so it seemed to my sixteen-year-old brain, who spoke and dressed impeccably, and yes, he did once say that I would be the death of him.

I can only hope I wasn’t.

Like a Captain of a ship I once met, a man who didn’t seem to have time for the minions, and a man who reeked authority and respect.  I’ve always wanted to be like him, but unfortunately, it was not in the genes.

Those are only a few, there are thousands of others over the years, a built-in library, if you will, of characters waiting to be taken off the shelf and used where necessary or appropriate.  We all have one of these banks.

You just have to know when to use them.

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