Things My Characters Have Taught me


How to select wine.

How to clean difficult stains from carpet.

How to set traps for adversaries.

If you’re stubborn enough the story line will change to accommodate you. Sometimes it makes for a better book.

If you refuse to go away eventually the author will write you into another book.

No matter how bad things get, they could always be worse.

Sometimes you just have to broom it up.

There’s always a time to say “d*mn it” and jump.

Be memorable.

Everyone has a role. Sometimes it’s a sucky role, but you’re still needed.

Pick up random weapons you find lying about.

Everything is a weapon.

Your scars are the places you’re strongest.

People get bored with your depression and interior monologue

If you don’t set it on fire now, you’ll regret it later.

It’s better to have loved and lost, but why lose, really, when you can fight for it.

Take care of little furry/scaly/tentacled creatures. Today’s waif is tomorrow’s guardian.

You don’t choose the plot, but you can choose your attitude to it.

There’s safety in numbers.

You can always fix it in post.

G-d is probably not an author, but it’s easier to think of Him as one.

I can yell upward “Get a critique group, already” but it won’t change much.

While alive there’s always hope for sequels.

139 thoughts on “Things My Characters Have Taught me

  1. It’s better to have loved and lost, but why lose, really, when you can fight for it.

    (As it would constitute a spoiler I will not go into detail.)

    Sometimes in spite of fighting the good fight a beloved character has to die. And that is SAD.

    1. I killed one of the most favorite characters in the Adelsverin cycle at about halfway through. Had to do it, it was already planned from the very beginning — as a good share of the following plot depended on it. Readers — including the Alpha readers — confessed that they wept buckets over it.
      So did I – I hated writing that bit. It happened mostly off-stage, though. And when that characters’ wife took her revenge in executing the responsible party in the streets of Fredericksburg? Oh, that scene was gloriously fun to write!

      1. Just one? But in each case it was proper to the story’s place and time.

        BTW: The wife’s revenge was most rewarding to read.

  2. One author (at a SF/F panel) was talking about characters who didn’t want to do what she (the author) wanted them to do.

    Some wit asked “like going into that dark cellar”? 😈

    1. There is no such thing as a stupid action. There is only an action for which the motive has not been sufficiently delineated.

      Some actions require more motive than others.

      The thing is, going into a dark cellar is usually NOT stupid, and the characters don’t know they are in a horror movie.

      1. They don’t know they are in a horror movie, but if they are the typical teens in a horror movie, then they have seen plenty of horror movies and know not to go into dark cellars alone, and without weapons for that matter. Or do all the alt-worlds in horror movies not have their own horror movies?

        1. I’ve been down plenty of dark cellars. I sometimes don’t bother to turn on the light until the bottom of the stairs.

          It’s like hearing a noise in the other room. The normal thing to do is go see what fell over.

          1. “Normal” might be highly variable.

            I’ve sprinted up stairs with a (n ornamental) long sword because I heard a creak where there shouldn’t be.

            I ain’t got no shame about pulling out my pistol when I Heard Something that was worthy of investigation; if it’s worth checking, you go armed.

            1. Just yesterday I heard a rustle in my car where there shouldn’t have been one. Turns out the neighbor cat snuck in when we got out after church and was VERY lucky that I was going shopping the same day. (I’m lucky too, because I didn’t have to clean up after a trapped cat.)

      2. I think Stargate (original and Atlantis) made the point several times, along the line of “Have none of you ever watched a horror/sci-fi movie?”

  3. There’s safety in numbers.

    True. Less so if secrecy and/or stealth are absolutely necessary.

    I now have an image of an overwhelming force of freedom fighters attempting to sneak their way through the dark shadows while infiltrating the enemy headquarters.

    1. Unless you have a Load or two in the group. Those characters who will open the door even when told not to because the monster may be behind it, will go and try to reason with it, will scream in the worst possible moment, have to be rescued time after time due to their own stupidity…

      Of course sometimes they are necessary. When if everybody acted smart there would be no story.

      1. Ah, man; I think I was the Load sometimes in my DnD group; sometimes, probably not always. It’s been a long time; there was that one time…well, I got transformed into a mud-puddle for a week by the very high level mother (I think) of one of my party after it was all over. I had rolled a 1 after reading a scroll with a huge damage (20d6?) fireball. My guy was second-level. It’s a wonder we weren’t all killed by that.

    2. There’s safety in numbers because you don’t have to outrun the monster then, just your slowest party member.

      1. The problem is that the Load is normally female and she will ALWAYS trip and fall and someone will go back to help her. She will get away to Load again while the good guy or girl (normally a guy) will get IT.

  4. God may not be an Author, but He is definitely a Creator. And that is probably one of the ways we are made in His image.

    (C.S. Lewis griped about the story being very long, and we are not the most attentive of listeners.)

      1. Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.
        – Rod Machado, paraphrasing a large number of historians and Oscar Wilde.

    1. And as C.S Lewis had Aslan tell us in “A Horse and His Boy” we only get told our OWN story. That was always a nice touch.

      And yes of late the Story has seemed more Hunter Thompson (with Hieronymus Bosch illustrations) than Dickens or Twain. Clearly the Author has a unique sense of humor.

  5. “I ain’t stupid, I ain’t expendable, and I ain’t going.”

    Most world threatening plots will start to unravel if you put a bullet through the head of the mastermind.

    There is a limit to what can be accomplished with a pen knife and boundless enthusiasm.

    1. Most world threatening plots will start to unravel if you put a bullet through the head of the mastermind.

      CAUTION: May not apply when mastermind is Koschei the Deathless, a Wizard (Witch) who has secreted his heart within a phoenix egg under a chicken inside a dog …

      1. Oh, I grant there are exceptions, but when I learned this from my character (Neyland Tarr) MOONRAKER had just come out, and Tarr maintained that less than fifteen minutes into the film, Bond knew Draxx was up to something murderous. Tarr maintained that Bond could have saved everybody an enormous amount of trouble if he had shot Draxx early one, and then picked up the pieces as they fell.

        1. It was a wretched film. The novel, on the other hand, may well be the very best of the Bond books.

          1. I wouldn’t say wretched. It was a poor Bond film. Wretched suggests that it stacks up unfavorably with, say, THE TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER or the for-tv remakes of THE LION IN WINTER or THE MUSIC MAN.

            1. When Moonraker came out as a movie, an omnibus edition of the earlier novels came out. (Casino Royale through From Russia with Love). My paperbacks were long ago worn out, but I was really annoyed that they skipped Moonraker in the omnibus.

              I read a couple of the rebooted series, but Bond, James Bond driving a SAAB just is wrong. 🙂

              1. What else would a contemporary James Bond drive? It isn’t as if the Brits still make good cars, and what with the money sunk into the NHS, “Going Green” and welfare to imported Islamic Middle-Eastern pedophile child rapists, where’re they getting funds for anything better than a Swedish clunker. Be thankful it isn’t a Volvo.

                1. Last I looked, SAAB automotive was deader than Doctor No. 🙂 OTOH, Licence Renewed was written when SAAB was still viable. Modulo reliability rivaling British Leyland’s output.

                  Hmm, a suitable British car for the ultimate British agent. Number 6 drove a Lotus Seven, but the something a bit more viable for long drives. Something a bit flashy, but priced below Saudi prince levels. Forget the modern Aston Martin, and JB just isn’t a Rolls driver. The McLaren is a possibility if the Queen’s Purse is paying.

                  I’d have him go for something vintage. To give a nod to British-American iron, I’d have him appropriate Tommy Lynley’s Jensen Interceptor. A Jaguar XJ12 would also give Q opportunity to have fun… American engine swaps are also viable in the 12. If we’re talking budget, the Jensen Healey or the Triumph Stag. (Bring your own mechanic…)

                    1. I’d have to double-check, but in ‘The Jennifer Morgue’ (the second Laundry Files novel, which spoofs Bond flicks), iirc the main character is given a Mini with various Q-style upgrades.

                    2. We got a movie channel trial as a freebie a while ago, and they had Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English. That one had the Rolls with Q style trickery. Meh movie; IMHO the car had the best gags.

      2. secreted his heart within a phoenix egg under a chicken inside a dog

        Is that the black magic version of a Thanksgiving turducken?

        1. Actually, it is a poorly remembered description of that which Wikipedia describes thus:

          Koschei cannot be killed by conventional means targeting his body. His soul (or death) is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest (sometimes the chest is crystal and/or gold), which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Buyan in the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will bolt away; if it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the egg has Koschei in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick, and immediately loses the use of his magic. If the egg is tossed about, he likewise is flung around against his will. If the needle is broken, Koschei will die.

          I am positive other warlocks have employed similar strategies to protect their lives, but Koschei is the only one I could come up with by name.

          Egg + duck + hare does sound tasty, however.

          1. Just get the damn needle out before starting to eat. Would be embarrassing to die because Koschei’s soul got stuck sideways in your throat. Even if it killed him too.

          2. Clearly, the solution is to dig up the chest, then use it as a dutch oven, and cook it without opening it. Once it is done, you can open the chest and eat the hareduckegg, making sure to use the needle like a wishbone, or else throw it into the fire.

          3. It oversimplifies — there’s some variation — particularly if the hero’s going to catch it only with the aid of the three animals he helped, so they have to match up.

            Koschei is probably the only named one. The Norwegian Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body has no other name, for instance.

          4. As you note, it’s not an unheard of method for a spell caster to preserve their life. The classic D&D lich uses something similar (with a phylactery), though perhaps not to the same extremes.

            Legend of the Burning Sands (a collectible card game that took the setting of Legend of the 5 Rings, and introduced a rough analogue of fantasy Middle East, Egypt, India, a Roman expeditionary army, etc…) had the Deathless Khadi, who were sorcerers that removed their own hearts and hid them away. So long as a sorcerer’s heart was intact, that sorcerer couldn’t be killed. Unlike Legend of the 5 Rings, the game didn’t last very long. Depending on how you view the constant story arcs and new editions of Legend of the 5 Rings game, this could have been both a good and bad thing.

      1. I’ve been naming household Linux computers for more famous ones. Haven’t gotten to Orac just yet, but one of these days…

        (I wonder if it’s possible to hack the voice system in newer cars. I’d love to have one with HAL-9000’s voice, even if it got to be a pain to unlock the doors.)

        1. Yup most of the systems on my home network are named after various sentient computers. Mycroft, GlaDos, Holly, Deep Thought, Hal 9000, M5. I’m slowly running out of names…

        2. I’d shell out some serious cash for my phone to use the voice of Peter Jones’, as “The Book.”

    2. But the guy putting a bullet in the head must be willing to take a bullet for doing it.

      Question – in WWI going “Over the Top” was stupid, insane and NEVER accomplished ANYTHING!!! How may lives would have been saves if Higher Ranking Officers had been willing to shoot Generals that ordered that insanity??? It was PROVEN many times that it accomplished nothing and was murder. The problem was that NOBODY that had to go “Over the Top” had access to the Generals who ordered it.

      Would YOU have the courage to shoot the Insane/Stupid General????

    1. I have hope for squirrels. Mostly that they stay out of the garden, since actually harvesting them and putting them into a nice stew is frowned upon in this neighborhood . . .

      1. Tree Rats are fat in this ‘hood. Pignuts, walnuts, maple and ash seeds, more maple seeds, more ash seeds, a bit of oak, and lots and lots of bird feeders

      2. Traps. And make a nice stew to share with neighbors.
        (Or let my dog catch and eat them, when she was younger (16 now).)

        1. Good sized grays have as much, if not more, meat on them than those puny Cornish game hens.

          Tricky cooking them in oven without burning at least part of them.

          I find cooking them in a crock pot works as long as you right up to, but don’t go beyond the point where the meat falls off the bones. Otherwise de-boning is a royal pain.

        2. One of the odder trap events was when I had a trap under the bird feeder. Got a grey squirrel and a Steller’s Jay at the same time. When I got to the trap a few hours later, both lost the cage fight. Heavy critters.

          The resident grey has achieved rodenta-non-grata status. It chewed through two hoses in a search for water. Got one at the end, then moved to the middle. The other hose, it started in the middle. It’s managed to avoid the hawks and eagles. Time to set a trap before it starts chewing tree tops again.

  6. Our Hostess said
    While alive there’s always hope for sequels.
    My feeling is, hell if its the comics/soap opera/Space Opera even if your dead there is hope for sequels (C.F. Jean Grey/Phoenix of the X-Men, Victoria Lord in One Life to Live, Obi-wan Kenobi/Yoda in Star Wars).

    The rule my wife and I had was “They’re not dead unless you SEE the body, and even then you can’t be certain”. The number of twins/clones strains credulity some days…

      1. And will somebody lease find out what Publishing House toad thought it was a good idea to greenlight a sequel to THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, especially one that kills off Mole in the first chapter?

        I want the bastard’s hide.

            1. When it starts to get into public domain, things get a bit squishy. No new King Arthur? Or retellings of Cinderella?

              1. No copyright at the time of DON QUIXOTE, but the original author was still alive, as I recall.

                There are some properties where I don’t think it matters. Tarzan? The original writing (as opposed to storytelling) is so mediocre, that I can’t care. People got exercised over the Disney animated and my thought was “Compared to the cinematic butchering that has gone before, this is pretty good.”

                But the unmitigated gall it took to try to write more WIND IN THE WILLOWS?


                Hell, I get annoyed when I see a new edition of the original, and they actually PAID somebody to do new illustrations. For God’s sake, why? There are two classic sets that can hardly be improved on; the E. H. Shepard (my preference) and another by Arthur Raskham which has the best picture for ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’.

                If you have those to pick from, what the pluperfect hell do you need new ones for?

                1. Oh, that one! Yes, that was wrong-headed. It was the reason why Cervantes wrote the second, to put an end to such nonsense.

              2. Doesn’t even have to be out of copyright– an awful lot of, say, Comic Book type writing is in this category.

                You get the idea they don’t even LIKE the source material…..

                1. With Comic books, the writers/artists work for the holders of the copy-right. 😦

                2. You get the idea they don’t even LIKE the source material….

                  “This is crap and I must write to show people what crap this is!” can be a powerful motivator. Philip Pullman reportedly was moved to write the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by anger over C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books.

                  1. The Magicians, too, and the intent was rather more blatant. (A big issue being that I never really believed the children’s series was as beloved as he told me it was.)

  7. It’s better to have loved and lost, particularly when the object of your affection does not return it with equal fervor.
    Utterly destroying them at that point offers a degree of momentary satisfaction, but far better to simply walk away with the expectation that at some point they will realize the true value of what they threw away.
    Still and all, there’s a lot to be said for wrath.

  8. you have written of your shocked face for sometime now. Glenn Reynolds has borrow it. Over on instapundit there is a pitcher of it.

    seeing it, I found it ………… Shocking.

    1. Apparently, some authors worry about meeting their characters in a dark alley. 😈

      1. But they could not kill you because their continued existence depends on you. Right? Even if you already killed them there is always the possibility of resurrection of some kind, or prequels. Once you cease to exist they can forget any hopes of anything new, and are frozen with only what they already have. Sooo…

        1. Even if they could not kill their author, they might make their author wish for death. 😈 😈 😈 😈

          1. Heh. True. Or kidnap her like Annie Wilkes the Number One Fan kidnaps the author in that Stephen King novel. And then force her to write the story they want to have. And keep forcing her to write sequels to it. And more sequels. And more sequels. As long as she can write. 😀

        2. You are reminding me of the film “Stranger Than Fiction” and what a wasted opportunity it was….

        3. Eh, depends. For some authors, the literary output doesn’t really seem to depend on the continued existence of the author (see Andrews, V.C.).

        4. Reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode (end of S1 if I recall correctly) where the author dictated his character’s description into a tape recorder and the character’s came into life.existence, literally.

          1. There’s a short story where a group of scientists are in a space station orbiting (IIRC) Jupiter, trying to determine what life is. They had very little in the way of entertainment, so one of the things they did was put on a play every week, though it was holographic, with characters controlled by the scientists, and no one knew who actually ran the other characters.

            One of the scientists claimed to have solved the puzzle, then promptly killed himself, but when they had the play, ALL of the characters were there. A little more drama occurred, then the story ended with the characters coming offstage to meet the scientists.

      2. I never want to meet The Bitch Empress Bethany Reynolds in a dark alley, unless I’m facing worse than 50 to 1 odds against me, and she decides to help the underdog.

  9. My characters have taught me that I can, indeed, put up with stubborn fools who I don’t especially care for, provided they eventually learn and reform. And yes, István Eszterházy, I am looking right at you.

  10. Pick up random weapons you find lying about.

    My wife will attest this is my number one talk-to-the-teevee trigger: “Don’t just leave that there! Pick it up, you moron!”

        1. Depends on the kind of game. They *could* be making makeshift crossbows out of leaf springs and scarp lumber, firing silver fifty cent piece tipped rebar at the werewolves… *chuckle*

          1. A magician specializing in transformational magic cast a spell on a pack of charging werewolves. Suddenly, that pack of charging wherewolves had no idea of either their location or their destination; and the pack promptly stopped with the canines all sitting around looking at each other with cocked heads and puzzled expressions.

              1. “As any old Africa hand will tell you if you buy him a drink, the only way to stop a charging Cape Buffalo is to take away his credit card.” — Peter Capstick, Death in the Long Grass

      1. Gamer, hell, my mom’s favorite pistol was found out in the middle of the road in the forest!

        (For those wondering, yes, they did put up ads– even paid for some– with something like “lost gun found, give description to claim.”)

    1. The other thing is they wound the bad guy and have the chance to kill him and just run away. Or they kill him as they have done before and run away. If he came back once, at least in multiple parts and burned up is best. Stay there and BURN him!!

      1. Double tap.
        “Why did you shoot the intruder a second time when he was down already?”
        “Your honor, it looked like he moved and was trying to get up and attack me again.”

  11. With families like these it’s difficult to tell the dumb from the dumber …

    Antifa vs Nazis: Sibling Rivalry
    By Sarah Hoyt
    In the last few years, we’ve had a bit of trouble with young people taking to the streets and expressing their displeasure hitting passersby in the face with bike locks to fight fascism. In fact, their name Antifa is supposedly from anti-fascism. They’re supposed to be out there, on the streets, fighting fascists 24-7.

    Now, the Left finds this so laudable that they not only praise the young people for their attempts to suppress fascists, but also in cities controlled by the Left, the police are instructed to ignore attacks and property destruction by Antifa, and grown up, paunchy middle-aged leftists talk big talk about “punching a Nazi.”

    Of course, the only puzzling thing about this is that there don’t seem to be any Nazis anymore. There are Neo-Nazis, but once you remove the government provocateurs and informers from that movement, there are maybe a few hundred, and frankly they’re so pathetic they’re at best Live Action Reich Players. Which seems like a menace too small to bring thousands of young people to the street, looking for one of them to punch.

    Or to put it another way, in a nation of three hundred million, you’d have to ration the right to punch a neo-Nazi in the face and also to limit it to, say, ten punches a day, else the Nazi face would become Nazi pulp long before all those who oppose Nazism can even think of punching one.

    Since there is a substantial proportion of the population convinced that punching Nazis is not only worthwhile but vitally urgent, one can’t avoid the suspicion that either they are misidentifying Nazis or that the entire Antifa movement is — despite its name — about something completely different from opposing fascism.

    The question is what it actually is about. …

    1. It’s sad. The Antifa have actually managed to make the Nazi SA ‘Brownshirts’ look better. The SA were better dressed, and had the courage to attack people who would actually fight back. Oh, they also bullied people who WOULDN’T, but they existed, by and large, to fight Communist street gangs who used more or less the same tactics.

      The closest I have seen the Antifa get to that is harassing political opponents they vastly outnumber, and then whining when they get punched out anyway.

      Wake up, children! How pathetic, stupid, and sleazy do you have to be to make Herr Rohm’s bully boys look good?

      1. Herr Rohm’s bully boys had counter-parts in many countries of the time but Communist street gangs also existed in the same countries.

      2. they existed, by and large, to fight Communist street gangs who used more or less the same tactics.
        Guess who one of those communist gangs was? Yep, “anti-fa”.

          1. Why have faux aunties? Are people really that depressed that their parents didn’t have any sisters?

            1. On another note, hopefully Disney doesn’t screw up the live-action Mulan that they’re working on. I haven’t seen the animated movie in quite a while, but my recollection was that it was pretty good.

              1. One of the things Evil Rob likes about Mulan is how it’s a musical—until they get to the battle scene. Then the music absolutely stops dead until a small reprise near the end. Just a little indication that yeah, some things aren’t good to sing about.

                1. The mood whiplash from “The Girl Worth Fighting For” to the scene. . . amazing use of the trope.

                  Not to mention that the song was a Disneyfied, child-friendly song — of a theme that soldiers might actually sing.

  12. I liked the comment in Ringo’s “Watch on the Rine” speaking of Skin Heads –
    (Something like) “They can’t even MARCH right, nothing to fear”.

    The Antifa are much the same, wearing Masks, Mooning Police, they are a “mob of spoiled children pretending to be badass” and NOT knowing how.

    1. Credit Where Due Department: The Watch on the Rhine was written almost entirely by Col. Kratman, with Ringo putting his name on it primarily to help Tom’s sales. John was* both a friend and admirer of Col. K and mostly just provides an editorial sounding board.

      *At least, at the time of the writing of that book; I’ve no idea of the current status of their friendship and thus restrict my observation to only the period of the writing of that book.

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