Your characters may not be as odd as you think. The Authors Collection.

Judge Judy presides over a strange array of characters.
Judge Judy presides over a strange array of characters.

This week, I had an occasion to view part of the Judge Judy TV show for the first time.  Oh, I had heard of it, knew what it was about, but had never watched it.  I came in and the show was running as I sat down, so I watched the rest of it.

I was surprised at the kinds of problems people brought to the court.  I was amazed at the people who appeared as either complainants or defendants.  I was astonished at the things they would say willingly, to be broadcast to the world. The problems I saw on that one show were not matters of life or death. Often they were even of small monetary value.

James R. Callan
James R. Callan

The show proclaimed in a banner that these were real people, bringing real problems before the court.  Not scripted.  It was hard to believe they were not actors playing out a poorly written script.

Later, as my wife and I walked through our property, we came upon a tall pine tree that had simply fallen over.  We had not had a great deal of rain recently. Dozens of other similar trees surrounded this particular one, all standing tall and strong.  We were mildly surprised, as there seemed to be no reason for this beautiful, live tree to just fall over, uprooted.

Fifteen minutes later, we came upon another such tree, perhaps eighty to ninety feet tall, lying on the ground, uprooted. Again, there were many other trees close by, about as tall, about as big around, visually no more healthy, but standing straight.  This tree was probably a thousand feet from the first fallen tree. Hundreds of trees were in between the two downed pines. And yet, only these two had been uprooted and laid on the ground.

So, how do these two stories connect? What do they have to do with writing?

ATonOfGold-3dLeftMany writers, as they begin to develop characters for a book, worry that a character is not real. Perhaps the character is too strange, too off-beat, too different. Maybe I’ve made this character too weird, the writer thinks.  Have I’ve gone too far?

Judge Judy’s show shows us that it is impossible for us to go too far with a character.  As unique or strange as we think we’ve made a character, in all likelihood, there’s a real version walking around.  If you have a non-human character, that’s a different story.  But for your human characters, somewhere in the seven billion people on earth, you’re going to find a duplicate. You can take crazy Uncle Willard and exaggerate him. A lot. But that will just make him like someone else’s crazy uncle.

And the trees?  That tells us that unexplained and unusual things happen. So, as writers, we can feel free to use unusual and unexpected things. They really happen in everyday life. It doesn’t have to logical. You may not be able to find an explanation.  And as the writer, you don’t have to have all the answers.

What you do need to do, though, is work it seamlessly into your story. Your characters may think it is strange and say so. But you must have the confidence to say, these things happen, these people do exist.  And write it with confidence.

Please click the book cover image to read more about James R. Callan and his novels.

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