Having a bit of a blank when it comes to writing a character? Can’t quite get into their head? Worry not. It’s easy peasy lemon squeezy really. By using one of your best writer’s skills – Observation – you’ll see your characters are all around, fully formed and perfect for harvesting. Reading The Metro recently I was delighted to find five fully-formed characters staring at me from the page, ready to be gathered together like spring flowers and plopped into a novel. Let me share them with you:
Shy Blonde In Red Coat
Very Shy Girl
Brunette With Light Blue Eyes
Rachel The Sleepy Blonde
and my absolute favourite,
The Sweaty Guy With A Runny Nose.
All these are love-lorn commuters looking for love through The Metro’s Rush Hour Crush. So, a sweaty guy with a runny nose. Sounds better than Plague Victim I guess, but what a base to build a character on. Had he been running in cold weather? Or was he ill? On drugs maybe? Blond or bald? For Shy Blonde read Assassin for sure, and Brunette with light blue eyes – well, not necessarily a woman is it?
Another place to find a character, even if you’re not especially looking for one, is at an event. Last week I was at a Jaguar Car Heritage Day at Blenheim Palace – not my usual entertainment for a Sunday but it’s good to do something you wouldn’t naturally do – and there he was. The Character I had a name for but not an appearance. I have a character that is not a nice person, but I didn’t want him to be a characterisation of a bad person – he has to be real. And there he was, right in front of me.
Picture the scene: millions of pounds worth of vintage cars, polished and buffed to within an inch of their historic automotive lives, surrounded by fans and enthusiasts – mainly dressed in beige slacks and leather shoes or designer jeans and trainers – when into my view swaggered a cigarette smoking man of about 45. Hair still dark, long to his collar and in which he’s parked his sunglasses, designer jeans – but with the hems trodden down at the back, scruffy around the pockets, wearing a jacket that didn’t match nor fit especially well and fraying slightly on one sleeve. He loped around a few of the cars, dropped his shades over his eyes and stood against a low wall for a while. He seemed distracted – he could have been waiting for a bus – but I knew straight away he was the character in my next short story. Gotcha. See – easy peasy lemon squeezy.
How To Make Them Real:
1 Observation. Always. Look closely, if you can; observe the shoes, the hair, the hands that serve you that coffee.
2 Short snippets in newspapers or online. The small bits that are used for fillers are often the gold nuggets where you’ll discover your characters
3 Amalgamation Jigsaws. Take the best of worst of lots of people you know or are in contact with. Squish ‘em together, make a character. I call this my Frankenstein Character – they don’t all turn out to be monsters!
4 Animals. This way of creating a character is usually done when the moon is full and the creative juices have gone off-piste for a bit, but you can have a lot of fun doing it. Old dog, limps slightly due to hip trouble, a bit deaf, square hairy face, independent spirit,
Old man, limps slightly due to hip trouble, a bit deaf, square hairy face, independent spirit. You get the idea.
5 Start with the name. A woman called Star, for example. What would she do? Singer? Librarian? Full-time Mum? Make a list – I love excel for this* – create names in one column, profession/job/life direction in another. Match up as your instinct tells you. Then ignore that instinct and match up differently. Maybe Colin in Accounts becomes Colin the professional tennis player by day and drag queen by night. Up to you.
Try this fella for size…
photo by Andrii Podilnyk
*note to self. Out. More. Get.