Posted by: penpatience | September 1, 2017


WRITERS WORDS:  “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” –Plutarch

Note:  “Cemetery Plot,” my fiction short story, has recently been published in The Storyteller Anthology Magazine, September, 2016 Quarterly Edition-a transitional delayed printing. Available through or




What is character? Definitions are many, but character can be defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual; a person in a novel, play or movie; a printed or written letter or symbol; a characteristic especially one that assists in the identification of a species.

Many attributes build and develop character. Mental, physical traits and environmental conditions contribute to the development of each individual.  Consider Mama’s constant admonitions, Daddy’s scolding, tough times, easy times, poverty, inherited wealth, family struggles, serious illnesses, ethnicities, genetic disabilities— circumstances of birth, place and environment all blending together to determine who we are as an individual.

This month I mused about the thousands of useful characteristics writers have at their fingertips in developing characters for stories. When I thought of the multitude of descriptive traits, a childhood memory popped into my head! Do any of you remember Mr. Potato Head? It’s a children’s toy, a brown plastic potato filled with strategically places holes where children can insert interchangeable parts. Insertion of various parts — ears, noses, eyes, hats, arms, legs, lips, etc. and, Voila! A new Mr. Potato Head emerges with each physical change.

Let’s build a writer potato head….

A middle aged man with sagging jowls, a drooping eyelid, thick lips, prematurely bald with variable colored tattoos covering his right arm, left leg and upper back (not a pretty sight at the beachJ ) Hmm….maybe he might be a biker dude; a foster parent for homeless kids; an ex-con on probation; a  Casino Blackjack dealer; or a college English professor teaching Creative Writing….

Hey! This is fun. Let’s build again…

A twenty-something, tall, pencil thin, blonde-haired, freckle faced Nun wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and orthopedic tennis shoes under a traditional long, black Habit. She ditches the Habit after evening prayers, waits until her fellow Sisters are asleep then, silent as a mouse, sneaks out the convent to, perhaps, rendezvous with one of those tattooed gents mentioned above….

Another great pastime for writers is people-watching. I’ll never forget the disheveled, wrinkle-faced woman in a too-big, grey, raincoat stumbling along a New York City street on a cool, fall day. She was carrying a large, brown, paper bag by her side and stopped at the curb across from me waiting for the red light to change. The light changed. When she stepped off the curb the bag broke spewing broken glass and spilled booze on the street corner. She kept on walking still holding the empty bag’s paper handle as she crossed. Surely, this inebriated, unfortunate lady could be a wayward sister to a main character in a future story….

It’s a difficult task for writers to come up with unique characters for their work. However, visual inspirations can happen on any street corner.

There’s a new Potato Head opportunity just waiting for you!

Readers & Writers: September Safety Slogan: “A spill, a slip, a hospital trip.” –    Be Safe!




  1. Great post. That’s one of the fun things about writing fiction: the build-a-character task. The trick sometimes is to come up with a character that may fit some stereotype, but when finished doesn’t fit the stereotype at all. Like the rough-looking, leather-and-chains clad biker dude who is actually an evangelical pastor. Have a great Labor Day!


  2. Hi Julie, Thanks for your comments. Yes, I can picture the biker dude who also is an evangelical pastor. Best wishes, Frances


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