There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Character …

Or develop one, that is.

In a very recent post, fellow Rogue, Bridget Callaghan, discussed how she created her highly adored character: Georgie Mae Perez. She offers two ways that characters can be generated, by flat-out copying a real-life person (or fictional person) or creating an amalgamation of several, by borrowing traits and characteristics from multiple people or characters.

Although, I’ve created more than my share of amalgamations in my writing days, I want to discuss a third technique: situational character development. I don’t know if it’s an actual writing “technique” or not, but it’s something I began to do out of necessity for some of my works. Being that I like to write literary fiction that’s highly influenced by environments and social issues, sometimes I come up with an issue or situation I want, or need, to write about, and then let the environment birth my character. The challenges of this environment will help me to determine the personality and character traits my protagonist will need to share my message.  

David Haas, exploring his dark side

David Haas, exploring his dark side

This is basically the technique I used to create The Method Writers’ David Haas. I knew the path, or “method,” that I wanted my character to travel. But how would I get him there and make it believable? After all, I wanted an author to transform into a vigilante, of sorts, in a short period of time.

I needed someone who was down and out on his luck. All that he had worked so hard for had failed. All the ways he had learned to get by and succeed in life were false teachings. He had to be open to giving in, trying something new. Something desperate.

Enter David Haas.

David lost his father several years back to alcoholism, something David is also susceptible to. His senile mother is confined to a nursing home. He left his job as an editor of a big New York based magazine to help care for his mother, and as a result, his fiancée, a beautiful model, left him. He’s broke, jobless, alone, and his first novel had bombed.

At some point, David’s serial protagonist, the vigilante Kenny Black, begins to whisper in his ear, planting seeds, giving him ideas.

Dark, sinister ideas.

About Jeff Swesky

Author Jeff Swesky primarily writes literary fiction where the characters balance a razor sharp line between redemption and destruction. Jeff is a member of the Rogues Gallery Writers, who published a short story collaboration, "Writing Is Easy," and a group novel, "The Method Writers." He also ghostwrote the Holocaust memoir of Rabbi Samuel Cywiak titled, "Flight From Fear," and released a collection of his short stories titled, "Fell on Black Days." He's currently working on several projects, including his literary, coming-of-age novel, "Such a Dreamer," and the crime noir serial, "The Awakening of Kenny Black." View all posts by Jeff Swesky

5 responses to “There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Character …

  • taureanw

    I love this!!!
    Great idea this is something I will adopt as I usually don’t truly understand some of my characters until well into my story!


  • Lisa Martino

    Just love Kenny Black. How do you come up with character names?


    • Jeff Swesky

      Come on, Lisa–you expect me to give up all my secrets in one day?! 😉 I’m glad you like Kenny so much. I may have to actually write his spin-off novels some day! Selection of character names varies for me. Sometimes I struggle to find the right one. Sometimes they just come to me. With Kenny Black, at the time I was watching the 2nd season of the irreverent comedy Eastbound & Down. The lead character is named Kenny Powers. Simple and catchy enough to invade my subconscious, I guess. So when I was looking for a name for my vigilante character, and I wanted a last name to represent his dark side, Kenny Black came to mind. In my satirical short story, The American Scream, I used a similar symbolic connection to my protagonist’s last name. Victim of a cruel modern society, his world is crashing down on him in nightmare fashion. I named him Jerry Lamb, representing the gentile lamb being led to the slaughter. Not that all of my character names are symbolic, though, just when I feel the occasion calls for it. 🙂


  • rogueme

    And here I thought you nabbed the name Kenny from South Park….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: