Thursday, May 11, 2017

From Reality to Realistic Fiction

Interesting characters need realistic “warts.” Sometimes the best way to develop a character is to look at a real person. Let me explain how I developed (hopefully) one of the multidimensional people in my new thriller, Riddled with Clues.
My dog, Bug, a Japanese Chin, and I have done pet therapy at the local VA Center for years. This particular VA Center has a number of rehab programs besides a major hospital. It also offers multiple programs to aid homeless veterans in New Mexico.

On one visit to the VA, a ragged veteran sat and stroked Bug for several minutes without speaking. Then he looked at me and said, “What does this dog call you?”

I recognized this was a serious question and deserved a thoughtful answer. I didn’t smirk or giggle. “I think he calls me Mom.”

The veteran lowered his head close to examine the dog’s face and then resumed stroking him. After a minute, he nodded. “I think that’s right.”

Several months later, a neatly dressed man on the VA campus approached Bug and me. “Hello Bug and Bug’s Mom.” As he talked to me for several minutes, I realized this was the same veteran. He was well-educated but had experienced hard times not only in Vietnam but also in his personal life. He wasn’t pathetic; he had dignity.

His words replayed in my mind over the last five or six years. When I set this thriller, Riddled with Clues, at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque, I knew I would include this man as a major character.

Please note: HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) doesn’t allow health care workers or volunteers to identify patients. However, I don’t know the name of this man and I didn’t describe him in the novel as he looked. Everything about the character in my novel is fictitious, except for the description of these two brief incidents. I think these two incidents showed the mental state and personality of a veteran in rehab better than long descriptions. I hope you agree.
Now aren’t you curious to find out how this character fits into the plot? Note: I didn’t give you the character’s name. Here’s the blurb for Riddled with Clues:
A hospitalized friend gives a puzzling note to Sara Almquist. He received the note signed “Red from Udon Thani” while investigating the movement of drugs from Cuba into the U.S. However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. After Sara listens to his rambling tales of all the possibilities, both are attacked. He is left comatose. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust: the local cops, her absent best friend, the FBI, or a homeless veteran, who leaves puzzling riddles as clues.
The other character based on a real individual in this novel is Bug. Isn’t he a handsome devil?

I hope my story will give you ideas for developing realistic final characters.

Riddled with Clues is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. 

J. L. Greger likes to include tidbits of science and exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: or her Amazon author page:


  1. Thanks for hosting me. I hope readers enjoy this true story of an unknown veteran.

  2. I think I captured the spirit of homeless veterans in this action thriller without making their problems depressing.