Follow the Leader – Exploring Character Types

What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you been there? There’s a sign in the conference room (remember those?)that says when a meeting is over all chairs should be pushed in and clean the wipe board.
Your boss finishes a meeting, you start to tidy up and he says, ‘leave it, we have the planning meeting to get to’. What just happened?
A kid watches his father take two free samples of buffalo flavored peanuts, when the sign says, “one per family”. The star athlete, the star dancer, the star drummer, the star brainiac, the star, starts a conversation with, “did you see what that girl was wearing?”
What is going on here? Someone down the line is faced with a choice. Will that employee heed the boss’ instructions to not make the effort to put the room in order? The boss said it’s okay, isn’t that enough? My dad is a good guy, if he says it’s no big deal to swipe two samples then it must be okay right? If my idol at school makes fun of the quirky kid, then I should laugh right?
When leaders take the easy way, make excuses, they give license to all those below them. They confuse those who know the behavior is incongruent with the authority they represent. But how far does that license go? Only as far as the next person allows, chooses, hiding behind the fault of one higher and disclaiming their own choice in their shadow. Or, they prove themselves to be the true leader. The one who faces each crossroad without looking up but looking side to side. How will my actions impact those next to me, with me, far up the road from me.
Explore that thought when developing your characters. A character can be the one who stands out, does it right, or the one who doesn’t and learns later the consequences and is inspired to change (this happens at least once to every parent) or goes on blithely unconcerned.

Getting to Know You

Character building through conversations

Tyler Rowan of “”

This fictitious conversation is between Andrea Mann a journalist researching for an article about patrons of “Feed Our Souls” (FOS) homeless shelter in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Andrea: Tyler, tell me about the circumstances that brought you to FOS. How old were you? What happened that you came to FOS?

Tyler: I was twenty-two, living in my car at the time. FOS had good food and I was starving.

Andrea: Were you working?

Tyler: Lost my job. Then I couldn’t pay my part of the rent, so my roommates kicked me out. Well actually I left. I wasn’t going to let them pay for my place. None of us were doing that well.

Andrea: So FOS was there for you when you were between jobs. What happened that you lost your job?

Tyler: I screwed up. Worked for a builder. I was learning a trade; you know how to put up walls, windows, a roof. But I partied too much. Came to work hung over, still drunk and almost got one of my co-workers killed. I was fired which I totally deserved.

Andrea: Not easy to admit.

Tyler: Took me a long while to get over, you know, almost killing someone. Sobered up fast but my references were shot.

Andrea: Hard to find a job without a good word from someone.

Tyler: Damn near impossible and it didn’t help that I’m not cut out for working at a fast food place or the dollar store.

Andrea: What about family?

Tyler (sarcastic laugh) Don’t have any.

Andrea: No family? You’re an orphan then?

Tyler: Not exactly. My dad died when I was eight, but mom remarried.

Andrea: And…

Tyler: Stan doesn’t want reminders of mom’s old life, tried to drive me out before I was eighteen but I had to finish high school at least, wanted to go to college. Yeah, that was a childhood dream. And I have a sister but she’s in jail.

Andrea: No aunts, uncles, grandparents?

Tyler: I thought this interview was about FOS.

Andrea: Yes, right. Sorry. It is but the background of FOS patrons helps us understand the support that might be needed beyond a bed and a meal.

Tyler: I don’t need support. I just need something to eat now and again.

Andrea: Of course. That is our main purpose.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the character in “Kill Words” by Clare Graith. Tyler’s blog can be found at (launching soon). FOS is a fictional homeless shelter. Andrea Mann is a fictional journalist. Any resemblance to real people and places is coincidental.

Thanks to the Heroes of 2020

Everyone wants to be a hero, the one person who makes a difference. The person no one wonders why they were put on the earth. It’s a goal even if to attain this status means sacrifice, loss of self, even pain.
Novels are chock full of heroes, both obvious and those quietly saving the day.
I have this longing but being that person eludes me. Recently at work, some of those on my team were in key positions of skill that they were called upon to continue through the night even after a full day’s work. So while I slept (somewhat fitfully)they solved problems and got the critical job done. My only contribution was to make sure they were clear on what needed to happen. I had no power to do it myself. If I stayed up to keep them company, show solidarity, I would not be able to carry on this morning and that is what I can do.
How hard it is to step back, let others shine, let them rise up and earn deserving appreciation, the honor for heroism. I’m struggling with being on the sidelines knowing that I was not called upon because I’m not the right person which is so easily translated in my brain as not a good person, not a capable person, somehow guilty of a crime.
I’m going to put these thoughts behind me, because I’m up at the plate now but it does bring to my mind the importance of lesser characters in a story. There’s no doubt that the protagonist is going to be a hero of sorts, but to get into the head of those around that person is key to a full story. This was pointed out to me more than once in critiques of different WIPs. I forget to fully develop the supporting cast.

Many of us in life are not the hero, at least not in a big way. How do you feel when you’re on the sidelines in the presence of a great person? What struggles do you have not being even remotely in the limelight but you’ve pushed yourself well past what is easy but it’s just not as much as the next person can handle? Channel those feelings, and experiences into the minor characters in your novel.

Everyone knows, a hero really isn’t a single person. There is always a network of support that allows the unique, superior qualities of the hero to be expressed, those that make it possible for the other to succeed. It’s not an equal share in the work, but it could be the simple plugging of one hole in the boat that keeps it afloat long enough for the strength of the the rower to get everyone to the shore safely. My deepest gratitude to those who are giving their all to help others. Those called upon during this pandemic year to give because they’re skilled to do so and don’t call it a job requirement but act from a deep well of compassion. May you find those lesser characters around you giving you the word, the smile, the speedy delivery of a meal, the taking care of children, the listening ear to your tears, always there, always ready to help you.