characters / To Hunt a Sub / Twenty-four Days

What I’ve Learned From My Characters

As I’ve mentioned (sometimes to convince myself), I am closing in on a publication of my thriller, To Hunt a Sub. My characters have changed considerably in the years I’ve been writing the book, sometimes through my pen, but often because they’ve opened up to me, much as a friend does when you get to know them. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from them–about life, living it, and learning the lessons that make us better in the end:

  • Eat instant coffee for a faster infusion of energy into your system. One of my two main characters, Dr. Zeke Rowe, former intelligence officer-turned paleoanthropologist, does this when he’s in a hurry. Everyone knows we drink coffee for the energy rush. Zeke simplifies it by eliminating the heating, stirring, and sipping. When he introduced this idea somewhere around page 109 of the book, I decided to try it. I shouldn’t have. It is the most awful taste I’ve ever put into my mouth, akin to drinking sour milk.


  • Drink your first cup of coffee in the shower. Zeke does this because he’s a multitasker. He always looks for ways to double up on activities to save time. I like multitasking. I’ve been known to read email while I dry my hair and or brush my teeth, so this, too, I tried it. Too often, I dripped shampoo or soap into the cup, which doesn’t taste good.
  • Wear a sign to warn those around you about your shortcomings or moods. One of my characters threatened this, but didn’t do it. I haven’t tried it yet.
  • If you toss cornmeal across your front doorstep, you’ll know if anyone breaks in. There’s no way to replace that after it’s been smudged. I mean, who carries corn meal with them?
  • Aubrey Maturin is a wonderful character. I’d never heard of him. When I discovered that both of my main characters read all twenty books in the series by Patrick O’Brian, I bought one.  This is the ongoing story of a friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturin, ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s now at the top of my TBR list.
  • Lessons come from unusual people (in my story’s case, a 1.8 million year old pre-human). Kali, my female main character, learns about life, loyalty, tenacity, and values from one of man’s earliest forebears. It would take a while to explain, so you’ll have to read the book to find out how this happens. I have her picture below. Amazing eyes, aren’t they?

early man

  • Lots of people use a verbal Mobius Strip in their decision making. Let me explain. You know what a Mobius Strip is–a strip of paper turn once and attached so that it only has one side. I’m sure you know people who use every argument they hear to support their own opinion until there’s no sense in talking to them anymore. My female main character, Kali, has one of those on her PhD committee.


This short list, of course, doesn’t include all the fascinating tidbits I’ve learned in the research process. Those keep me writing.

What traits have you adopted from your novel’s characters?

More about interesting character traits:

Characteristics That Make Your Character Memorable

It’s Not What Happens to Your Character Readers Care About. It’s Their Reaction That Matters

Give Your Characters Their Head

–reprinted from Today’s Author

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

54 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned From My Characters

  1. Pingback: What I learned from the characters in Against All Odds | WordDreams...

  2. Such a fun post! And the mobius strip–I was wondering how that figured in to decision making. And cornmeal to signal someone has already been there–that’s a great idea (if one has cornmeal handy). I suppose sand or fine gravel would do the same (unless you had training on walking on rice paper like Kwai Chan Kane from Kung Fu).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great post. Too funny you have tried stuff your characters did to see. I like coffee so yeah I have done that with a spoon just because I liked it when I was younger. Now I put in shakes sometimes, not as prone to eat dry. I prefer brewed.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Excellent post and lessons coming from certain `bizarre´characters, if I am allowed to called them so… I like the idea of wearing a sign to warn those around you about your shortcomings or moods. Sometimes `no trespassing´ would be just perfect, don´t you think?…
    Sending best wishes, dear Jacqui. Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Writer’s Tip 110: Get to Know Your Character | WordDreams...

  8. Thank you Jacqui for a wonderful post. I agree with everyone above and have had he same experiences. My characters talk to me, they lead me and tell me where they want to go and want to say. I used to try to harness this and lead them in the direction I wanted. NOT SO! Before I begin to write, I get quiet, or listen to some music and let the characters come to life. I find that my writing is better. It’s an awesome experience. I just love the writing process. Best wishes to you on the forth coming book. Whew! You’re one busy lady. Thanks for being here for us. It is greatly appreciated.


    • Love that idea–to sit quietly and let the characters come to life. I’m about to start the [final] draft of my novel and think I’ll try that every day. See what they tell me that I haven’t been open to hearing before.


  9. Learning to be other people is always tricky, and fun. I sometimes wonder how many mannerisms I pick up while writing various characters. There’s definitely some leakage; it’s not as if you can write a story from the POV of a particularly serious or sarcastic individual, and then just turn off the serious or sarcasm magically when the fingers are lifted from the keyboard.


  10. I love that you’ve tried some of the habits of your characters! I can’t imagine eating a spoonful of coffee, but I imagine there would be quite a buzz. Speaking of a buzz…I can’t wait to read this novel! 🙂


    • They have to be interesting. Me, I’m not terribly quirky, though I’m trying to nurture those traits. I’m sure they make people more interesting in the real world, just as in the fictional one.


  11. I had a good laugh at this post Jacqui thanks 🙂 … I multitask all the time and come short often …(found my car keys in the freezer once – though I doubt I would introduce that quirk into a character in WIP – way too odd). Though my characters do open up more, the more I get into them and they become my familiar ..


    • Oh, I think that’s a wonderful trait. A character slightly (greatly) paranoid, keeps his car keys in the freezer because who would look there when stealing his car? I might use that, Susan!


  12. Although it tastes terrible, I’ve heard of others doing this too. I guess if you need the lift in a hurry, it’ll do the job.


  13. I love this post – so insightful, so intriguing. Have always been fascinated about mobius strips since the first time I was shown one, but the analogy between the frustration and wonder of the strip and people who are human mobius strips – Jacqui, your whole post could rest on this one observation and it would be enough.

    BTW: remind me to show you the painting I made of early man. Two actually, father and son.


  14. In my first book, the characters would not do what I wanted. Their stubborn resolve took me farther, sent my main character to Paris, and recruited help for the endeavor (I’ve always been reticent to ever ask for help. In my second book, one character forced me to listen to a lot of music, some of it opera (which I don’t much like) and a lot of Gregorian chants. I also was pushed to delve more deeply into Canadian history than my grade school or high school teachers would have liked–to discover truths about how our First Nations were treated, both in the US and Canada–little facts that illustrate the ugly truth that the victor gets to tell their side of the story.


  15. Congratulations on your soon-to-be published book. I’ll look out for it and from your character traits it sounds most intriguing. It is almost surreal how they become such a part of your own real world.


  16. Jacqui, your book sounds interesting, more so your introduction to the characters. So true that sometimes we decide to make use of something and later decide to explore what it is. Happened to me many times.

    All the best
    Chennai Focus


  17. I once thought of writing a book on this subject and started training myself up using a video game as a simulation. As for characters, I know exactly what you mean.


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