Character Creation by ‘Friend of the Devil’ Mark Spivak

Character Creation by ‘Friend of the Devil’ Mark Spivak

When it comes to creating characters, most writers will tell you to allow your characters to come alive and dictate their own destiny. I think this is basically correct, and it takes some getting used to, but some very surprising things will happen if you let them develop on his or her own. If you start out with a rigid concept and try to impose it on a character, it will show in the narrative: the story will seem artificial and stilted.

Friend of the DevilI believe the most important thing is to allow yourself to create a mental space that is part fantasy, part daydream, and totally devoted to your current project. I find it really useful to think about my characters right before I doze off to sleep. I also insulate that fantasy world during most of my waking hours. We don’t have a land line at home, I don’t own a smart phone, and I don’t send or receive text messages. I have the ringer turned off on my cell phone, and look at it once or twice each day to see if anyone called. The method of creating that mental space will vary from person to person, but I don’t believe it’s possible to nurture it if you’re staring at a phone all day.

When I’m working on a story, I let the characters reveal themselves through action and dialogue. I try to avoid description. Frequently I’ll come to the end of a first draft and realize that I haven’t even told the reader what the character looks like. You can always go back and add missing descriptive detail, but I think it’s crucially important to let the character emerge through action, dialogue, his or her private thoughts, and interaction with other characters.

For me, all of this tends to result in a story that is far more clipped and forceful than the average novel writer during the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th. I think that’s both necessary and desirable in the current era. Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to turn back the clock to an age without TV, movies or the internet. Writers may like to think of themselves as artists, and they may be artists, but the truth is we’re also competing with Facebook and The Real Housewives of New Jersey for the time and attention of readers. People want drama, action and stimulation, and if we don’t give it to them there are many other places they can get it.

About the Author

Mark SpivakMark Spivak is an award-winning author, specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants, and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and was honored by the Academy of Wine Communications for excellence in wine coverage “in a graceful and approachable style.” Since 2001 he has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the Food Editor for Palm Beach Illustrated; his running commentary on the world of food, wine and spirits is available at the Global Gourmet blog on His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Men’s Journal, Art & Antiques, the Continental and Ritz-Carlton magazines, Arizona Highways and Newsmax. From 1999-2011 Spivak hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.

Spivak is the author of two non-fiction books:  Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Lyons Press, 2014). Friend of the Devil is his first novel. He is currently working on a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq.

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