Posted On April 1, 2014 by Print This Post

Using Proverbs to Boost Character and Plot Development with Jean Murray

Jean Murray joins us to show that an oldie but a goodie – a proverb – can help us create books that captivate readers.

The pen is mightier than the sword ~ Using proverbs to boost your character’s development and storyline.

Proverbs are an integral part of our lives, whether spiritual, satirical or metaphorical.

Proverbs provide a short moral lesson, cultural value, wisdom or truth, easily remembered and passed down generationwebphoto after generation. We all have one tucked in the back of our brains either by our mother or grandmother— Don’t cry over spilt milk. Haste makes waste. Ignorance is bliss.

Proverbs are often indirect and less offensive than direct criticism or advice.

One of my favorite corporate or team sayings is Don’t beat a dead horse— for those lovelies in a group that just won’t let go of an argument or a topic/problem that has been discussed at length without resolution. Either way, it hinders the team’s forward progress. The horse is dead, move on…

I think of proverbs as life lessons. Isn’t that what we want for our characters? Simple phrases with meaning that provide the perfect playground to inspire our characters and storyline. Whether in the planning stages or by the seat of our pants, you can use these little ditties to guide your character to resolution. What lesson do they need to learn by the end of your story?

For example, A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss. This can work in our favor in two ways. Do we have a character that is in a slump and the world is running on without them? Bogged down with “moss,” they either lack motivation to move forward or have so much responsibility they see no way out. On the other hand, do we have a character that is so unattached and unsettled he has nothing to show for all the work he/she has done? Has little or no “moss?” This is not without reason. Do they fear commitment or are so focused they see “moss” as only a deterrent to their goals.

We make this work for us by answering a few questions.

• What do I need to do as a writer to get the stone rolling and out of its rut or get it to slow down enough to appreciate “the moss” in this case?
• What happens to the stagnant stone when it starts to roll and lose some of its “moss?” Moving forward isn’t without sacrifice. What will he/she leave behind?
• What happens when “the moss” slows the character down? How will he/she react? Does it detract from their goals or augment it? How long will it take them to see the beauty of “the moss.”
• Most importantly, how do our characters interpret the value of “the moss?” Is it a worthy gain or sacrifice for either character?

soulreborn 1600x2400Crazy, I know. I’m laughing as I write this. Who would think “moss” could be so intellectually stimulating?

A friend recently shared a proverb with me that fit the theme of my book, Soul Awakened.

The one who falls and gets up is so much stronger than the one who never fell. This is an integral part of my story of two brothers, one who has never faltered and the other who has led a life of indiscretion. One struggling to stand while the other is crumbling under his own self-righteousness. Either way, they both have a hard lesson to learn. It takes strength and fortitude to climb to the top. More importantly, finding the means to forgive oneself when no one else will.

Most proverbs have a dual message, similar to our rolling stone example. Do the hero and heroine interpret the proverb differently or the same? How will this play into your internal conflict between the pair?

Proverbs help you stay focused on the little life lesson you wish your hero or heroine to achieve. Is his or her cup half empty or half full?

Readers relate to characters that face similar life struggles. Create 3-dimensional characters instead of flat canvases.

Whether you are just starting to write or in the editing phase, ask yourself – what proverb would be the perfect match for your book/story? Take a closer look and see if your characters are following the course you set out for them. Do they learn their lesson? If the answer is, no, ask yourself why?


Is there a proverb that your family is famous for saying?  Or do you have a favorite you are willing to share?  Can you give an example of how this could be used to develop a character or storyline in your book? 

Damon Suede returns to RU tomorrow!


Giveaway:  I am celebrating my website’s new look with a Giveaway.  All commenters are eligible to enter, just follow my website link.  Author Jean Murray’s Website


Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Author Bio:  In her pursuit of a nursing degree, Jean Murray aspired to see the world and joined the Navy. At the end ofSoulAwakened-1600x2400 2011 she said a heart-breaking goodbye to her Navy family and retired after twenty years of military service. Although her dreams of writing full time have yet to come true, she continues her writing journey and draws inspiration from her travels abroad. She enjoys spending time with her family and of course, writing about the “Carrigan sisters and their mates, Gods of the Underworld,” to bring you the next installment of the Key to the Cursed series.


Author Jean Murray brings a wonderful new spin to the paranormal world with her Egyptian Underworld gods.  She broke ground in the paranormal romance genre with Soul Reborn and Soul Awakened and now continues the Key to the Cursed journey with Soul Unbound and Soul Unleashed.  See what readers and reviewers are saying about her books ~ GOODREADS

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12 Responses to “Using Proverbs to Boost Character and Plot Development with Jean Murray”

  1. I really like this idea, Jean. I always try to find a motto to sum up my character, but a proverb would work well, too. Maybe ever better. 🙂 Thanks for the tip.

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | April 1, 2014, 9:14 am
    • Terri,

      Thanks for stopping by. Once I find the perfect proverb to fit the character, I like to keep it posted close by the computer. A small reminder of the questions I need to ask myself along the way and keep my writing focused on the goal.

      Best wishes,


      Posted by Jean Murray | April 1, 2014, 9:56 am
  2. Hi Jean,

    What a great idea! I know there’s one about catching more with honey than vinegar. I lure my bad guys in with this one. The spider and the fly trick.

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | April 1, 2014, 9:32 am
  3. I believe you may enjoy reading my novel because of your interest in King Solomon’s proverb used in your posting.

    The novel is a contemporary application of a story to promote the ancient wisdom and wise sayings in relation to today’s modern times.

    As A Lily Among Thorns – A Story of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and the Goddess of Wisdom by Rudy U Martinka

    Regards and good will blogging

    Posted by Rudy u Martinka | April 1, 2014, 5:32 pm
  4. Another favorite proverb of mine and holds true in my story of the two brothers…

    The bigger they are the harder they fall.

    This happens quite frequently with the heroes of our stories. Often those at the top have the most to lose. They are on top for a reason, but sometimes it easier to gain than sustain.


    Posted by Jean Murray | April 1, 2014, 6:00 pm
  5. Evening Jean…

    Unfortunately I can only come up with “A good man is hard to find”….lol..which I suppose I could apply to most romance novels.

    Great use of proverbs, something I’d never thought of before!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 1, 2014, 9:46 pm
    • Hi Carrie.

      I think that is a great example. It can mean different things to different people.

      What type of man will our heroine define as “good?” Do we set our expectations too high or too low?

      I love this proverb because it gives me so much to think about. Maybe that is our character’s life lesson — finding that perfect complement to oneself. The perfect match 🙂


      Posted by Jean Murray | April 2, 2014, 6:54 pm
  6. I want to thank the Romance University for having me over. Loved the responses and look forward to more.

    Jean Murray

    Posted by Jean Murray | April 12, 2014, 9:27 pm
  7. Hi Jean,
    Thanks alot for this idea, i’m so happy to see it.
    I’m presently writing a research project on the use of provebs by a Nigerian playwright; Ola Rotimi, using two of his plays The gods are not to Blame and Ovonramwen Nobaisi.

    Been having problems with my chapter 3 which centres on how his use of proverbs help in plot development but with your idea above i guess it will be easier now. Please will appreaciate if you can assist me by explaining more on how effective proverbs help in plot and character development. I will be very grateful. Thanks alot in anticipation

    Posted by Ojay | January 28, 2016, 4:12 am


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