Create Great Characters Using What You (or Your Spouse) Know

“You write about what you know, and you write about what you want to know.” —Joyce Maynard

Image courtesy of njaj at
Image courtesy of njaj at

I wrote Calculated Risk mostly from what I, or my husband, know.

With curiosity and research, we can learn much about a subject. But often:

It’s easier to create a character when we know personally his job, personality & interests. Click to tweet.

The main characters in Calculated Risk are good examples. They’re extreme opposites. Nick is an analytical actuary, and Cisney is an expressive marketing rep.






 Why I could make my characters believable in their jobs.



  • As a retired health actuary, I know actuaries evaluate the financial risks of insurance companies.
  • I worked twenty-five years with male actuaries. I observed many are intelligent, analytical, introverted, private, poor communicators, and a bit weird.
  • My husband, John, is a retired actuary. I know he’s smart, wants to be right, and is decisive.


  • I worked with marketing reps. They tend to be expressive and friendly.
  • I observed marketing reps with clients. In their desire to please clients, they sometimes agree to things they’re unsure they can deliver.
  • I saw how actuaries and marketing reps get along.
Image courtesy of kasahasa at
Image courtesy of kasahasa at


  • While many actuaries are poor communicators, many marketing reps only think they’re good communicators. I played up this observation between Cisney and Nick.
  • I recalled actuaries’ and marketing reps’ odd behaviors and wrote similar incidences.

These were fodder for humor.

Why I could make Nick and Cisney believable in their personalities.


  • One personality test labeled me an expressive analytical. An oxymoron. Very distracting for me. I knew these traits would be distracting for Nick and Cisney. So I coined, opposites distract.
  • As an expressive analytical, I could get inside Nick’s analytical mind and into Cisney’s expressive nature.
  • Plus, analytical introvert John was the role model for Nick.


  • Nick dislikes his mom relating stories or people asking questions about his private life. Cisney eats up drawing answers from him and hearing stories about him.
  • An actuary at work often thought so long, I’d almost burst to fill the silence. His eventual answers were excellent. Nick has long but productive thinking moments that drive Cisney crazy.
  • As an expressive, I sometimes speak before I think. This was perfect for Cisney, causing her problems with Nick.
  • Sticky notes pepper my office. Cisney lives by them. This quirk amuses Nick.



Why I could make Nick and Cisney believable in their interests.


  • John listens to 70s tunes. He likes chess and thinking games.
  • Besides charts and numbers, I love to be creative and make people laugh.
  • I’ve studied the Bible for years.
Image courtesy of Supertrooper at
Image courtesy of Supertrooper at


  • Cisney calls Nick’s 70s music doo-wap songs. He’d like to correct her that “doo-wap” is a 50’s or 60’s term.
  • Cisney prefers classical music. On Nck’s family’s grand piano, she plays “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” the piece my German flute teacher flaunted.
  • After she’s jilted, Nick’s biblical knowledge gives Cisney a new perspective.
  • Cisney likes eliciting laughs from Nick to enjoy his dimple.
  • The chess game John helped me write prods Cisney to see Nick in a new way. You’ll have to read Calculated Risk to find out how.

Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthy

How have you used what you KNOW in creating characters?