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A Cast of Characters

By Shirley E. Gould

As we strive to craft amazing manuscripts, our plots and genres are nothing without great characters. An interesting hero or heroine coupled with a riveting plot keeps us at our laptops creating word count. For our characters to be imprinted on our reader’s memory, we continue to search for unique people to put on the page. But where do you find them?

Using traits of someone familiar can be a great place to start. While I spend my days writing, my sister delves into genealogy. Her hobby is a wealth of information for me as an author.

In our family tree are the good, the bad and the ugly. If I wrote historical fiction, I could create a man of integrity who signed an important document using the story of John Hancock, who is in my lineage. As his distant relative, I’m proud of who he was and his impact on American history. But, a little farther down our family tree trunk are some cattle thieves who were hung for their dastardly deeds.

My grandfather was a long, tall Texan who wore a gun, a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and rode horses. To take my grandmother to town he drove a wagon—never learned to drive a car. He was a man of integrity. In his later years, he became a farmer and a bee keeper. He was a big man with a huge heart for his family—a real hero.

On my mother’s side of the family my great grandmother’s name was Granny Parker. I have a fourth cousin you might recognize. Her name was Bonnie Parker of the Bonnie and Clyde fame. My cousins, now senior citizens, love to tell about them attending family reunions where they shared stories of their many exploits. I’d love to have been there to collect fodder for my fiction.

Through the years, the males in our blood-line have served their country proudly in every branch of the military. My dad was in the Air Force just after Pearl Harbor. I have a second cousin who is a four star General.

My nephew served in the Navy. He’s the one who pushed the launch button that sent the first missile into Iraq—starting the war. In my family I have enough veterans to glean from. Using their experiences, I could write military fiction.

But as I focus on my contemporary fiction, I’m surrounded by a vast cast of characters in my family, my church and among my friends. I have instigators and peace makers, saints and sinners, comedians and sticks in the mud.

So, what am I saying? No matter what genre you write or what time period you choose—take a look at the characters on your family tree. It’s your history. Make a list of their traits, good and bad. Then change their names and create yourself a best-seller.

But, if you happen to have a family that is stoic, angry or boring. I invite you to use mine. On most days—it’s a zoo!

Shirley Gould and her husband J.R. were in ministry for forty years, serving as missionaries to Africa for fourteen years. She’s the founder of an orphanage outside Nairobi. Today she travels and speaks. She lives in the Nashville, Tennessee area enjoying time with her six grandchildren. She’s currently writing a contemporary romantic suspense series, and a non-fiction work.

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