December 6, 2012

Writing Tough Characters

Giacomo & Slick

Giacomo & Slick

What My Animals Teach Me About Writing.

There are thousands of books for sale that offer advice on writing, but I don’t buy any of them. I have all the advice I need right here on the animal sanctuary. There is nothing like several dozen animals to teach you about…well…damn near anything. It seems like every week I learn something from one animal or another. The lesson I learned this week happened to relate to writing, and I thought I’d share it with you. First, though, I’ll introduce you to the stars of today’s post: Briella and Freckles. Brie is a star because she’s the “tough character” I’m writing about.

Freckles is a star because she frightens Brie almost as much as thunderstorms.


Brie and Freckles on couch

Briella & Freckles

Briella at gate

Briella & Sandy

Freckles mean









How It Started

Last week I started reading a new book, a pretty good thriller, but the more I read, the more unbelievable the main character became. He was the perfect specimen, big, muscular, super smart, trained in everything imaginable, fast, agile, feared nothing. I stopped and thought about that a minute and realized I didn’t believe it—everybody fears something. It was about that point when the storms started. I couldn’t hear them, but I knew the storms were coming because Briella, our giant Great Dane, jumped the gate separating “their” room (meaning the dogs’ room) from the kitchen.

Their room used to be my room, but they took it away from me years ago. Now I’m stuck in the kitchen or a small living room with an uncomfortable sofa. Pardon my redundancy; I do realize that all sofas in living rooms are uncomfortable. It might have something to do with purchasing for “looks” instead of comfort, and it might have more to do with who makes the decisions to purchase them. (Notice how I cleverly avoided mentioning which gender usually does this.) I will also probably cleverly get my ass kicked when my wife reads this.

Back to the Story

Briella is a big girl, the biggest female dog I’ve ever seen. When I say big, let me give you an idea. Brie stands 34.5” at the shoulders. She has a 44” chest, and she weighs @180 lbs. No matter how you look at it, that’s a big girl. One other fact—Briella is terrified of thunder—not to mention 12-pound Rat Terriers.

If a storm is within a thirty mile radius, Brie shakes, jumps the gate, knocks over chairs, beats down my door, moves the couch…I think you get the point. The picture you see at the bottom of the post is Brie on my brother’s lap after a loud thunder clap. If a storm moves in after I go to bed, it always ends the same, with Brie making her way to my “chamber door.” But unlike the raven in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, Briella’s “gentle rapping” is not so gentle. It sounds more like someone swinging a sledge hammer. Look at that paw!

Brie's paw

Brie’s paw

Briella with Emiliana

Brie & Emiliana

What Do I Do?

I get out of bed, and invite her into the bedroom. We have a king-sized bed, but when Brie “visits” it no longer seems so big; she hogs the whole damn thing. Then, once she’s in the bed, the shivering and shaking begins and, worst of all, the drooling. It lasts all night, or until the storm goes away. Far away. The pic on the right is Brie during another storm. She climbed in bed with Emiliana, my niece.

During a particularly bad storm, I put my arm around Brie and whispered softly. “What are you so afraid of, Brie? You’re the biggest dog on the farm and you’re afraid of thunder?


It was then that it hit me. I have always had a problem letting my “tough guys” have faults or weaknesses. Seeing Brie like this made me realize that it was okay to be afraid. It didn’t take away from the fact that she could pummel any dog on the property, or chase off a coyote or two, or even stand up to some of the wild pigs. She was simply afraid of thunder—and Rat Terriers.

So how is that different than one of my tough, nasty, characters being afraid of heights, or driving fast, or drowning? It isn’t. It’s all in my mind. Maybe I’m afraid to be afraid?

Darth Vader and Emperor

Darth Vader & Emperor

Brie on Chris' lap

Brie on Chris’ lap

Bottom Line

Next time you create a story, instead of making your characters “tough guys,” try making them ordinary guys who are tough. There’s nothing wrong with a little fear. Even Darth Vader was afraid of the Emperor.



Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,




Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time, and A Bullet For Carlos. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.”



photo credit: Anime Nut via photopin cc

4 Responses to “Writing Tough Characters”

  1. Sounds like Brie needs one of those “Doggie Security Vests” doubt if they come in XXXXL size!? My friend Dave had a West Highland Terrier, Abbott, who would howl and bark incessantly at the thunder and lightening outside the house. Dave would shoot a bullet in the air (outside of course) and send Abbott running back to his bed. He then had a new fear!! No more barking and howling. Sorry about the sofa!! Good Story!

  2. Thanks, Joy. Yeah, Brie is a character, and the funny thing is Freckles terrifies her almost as much as the thunder, but we haven’t found anything else she’s afraid of.

  3. It breaks your heart to see them get so scared. I’m always surprised how it affects some of my dogs but not others.

    Brie is gorgeous. What a big girl!

  4. I know what you mean about the scared part, Maria. It’s just funny how some get scared and others don’t. Little Freckles isn’t afraid of anything! and she’s all of 12 lbs.

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