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?

5 Things that Spur Our Creativity

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” —Unknown

My list of things that spur our creativity is based on my experience and observations.

 MP9001827601.  Necessity

I think the necessity in today’s quote is twofold. First, if people have a need, they’ll get creative to fill it. For example, Apollo 13’s malfunctions and NASA’s creative solutions.

Second, I think many of us “need” to use our creative juices. Even without outer needs to stimulate us, we thrive on creativity. It energizes us, provides us a tool to understand life events, and gives us a means to express feelings.

For example, I learn best through application, so I practice the technique of writing internal stories to explain ideas to myself. In another post, I mentioned I created short stories to explain Biblical teachings to myself.

Woman with typewriter.2.  Suffering

A cartoon my mother posted in her art studio showed a disappointed artist appraising his painting. The caption said, “I haven’t suffered enough.”

Suffering can turn us to creativity. Creative endeavors can provide victims safe ways to deal with past abuses. Therapists have encouraged children to draw pictures after traumatic events.

I think, in general, adversity is often a catalyst to creative expression. One man wrote a novel after his divorce. He never wrote again. We writers can tell our stories of hardships through fictional characters. We might have no control over misfortunes, but we can write stories in which perpetrators receive justice or redemption. We can write healing stories in which heroes learn to forgive.

Artist Thinking3.   Environment

I think those who grow up with creative parents tend to recognize how their own imaginations can be applied. It’s what their parents modeled.

For example, I grew up observing my parents’ creative efforts in everything. The times my father helped me were when the aid involved using his creativity. He wrote a skit for my junior high talent show. He helped my third grade class make papier-mâché puppets. My parents always made our costumes. My mother drew paper dolls and their outfits for my sister and me.

I didn’t imitate my parents and pursue art. But I sought creative expression that fit my needs and personality and desire to help others.

MP9004430784.  Personality 

I’ve observed those of us devoted to creative expression are willing to spend much time honing our craft. Whatever is the main vehicle for our creative release (art, writing, drama, music, sculpture, solving problems), we seek a measure of excellence.

Personality also seems to spur how our creativity manifests itself. Some of us are curious introverts, researching to feed our imaginations. Others are extroverts infusing drama into our presentations. Some of us expressive types are idea machines for solving problems. Many of us use a mishmash of creative outlets.

5.  Creator 

42-15654076For me, the ultimate source of our creativity is God the Creator of all things. He gave us creative imaginations to heal and encourage us as well as to serve others.

Looking at the tiny veins under the tender skin of a newborn, I’m awed and inspired. God’s design to send lifeblood to every part of an infant’s body shows me how God considered every detail in creating us.

And what amazes me more is God’s statement that He made us in His image. He designed us to be creative like Him!

No matter what has ignited our imaginations, we can intentionally pursue our creativity to help others. Imagine the world if we did.

What spurs your creativity and how do you use it?

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