Finding Characters in the Real World

Writers often struggle with character creation, and they should, since it’s a crucial part of writing fiction. Good characters need to be fully developed, not flat and simple things. Part of this development is to give your characters memorable traits.

There’s a danger, here, though. Novice writers often make characters that are nothing but a collection of traits, with one of them to be the character’s “defining” trait, often exaggerated to the point of being a caricature, not a character.

Yes, that’s really me. I used to have hair.

Still, traits are important, and they should be more than the typical likes and dislikes, verbal tics, and so on. And a great way to find these is to be a people watcher. Study the people around you, not just your friends, but strangers, too. You might end up finding characters in the real world. Or at least parts that you can use to flesh out your characters.

For example, my first girlfriend had a number of odd traits, one of which was particularly curious. After she said something she felt was clever, she would say, “Um…” and pause, smiling, as though waiting for the applause to stop or the laugh track to wind down. It was a bit pretentious and a little annoying. But it was memorable.

Or throw money. Whichever.

On the grosser side of things, when I was quite young, I knew a kid who would surreptitiously stick his pinky up his nose, pull out a stringy ol’ boog, and stuff it in his mouth. We were about six years old at the time, and trust me, that was a long time ago. Yet, that image has never left me. I rather wish it would.

Not posting a pic of that.

Who among us has not had a school teacher who was memorable for things he or she said? I can think of three or four of my own, including a math teacher who would say things like, “Balls on toast, kids!” We did our best not to chuckle, and many of us were just at a loss as to why he’d say that in the first place.

In this case, turkey balls.

None of these examples, of course, are anything more than interesting tid-bits. They aren’t characters, but they certainly can be injected into a growing character to help flesh them out.

Being a good writer means being a good observer. The world around you is chock full of fiction fodder. Take it wherever you find it.

Posted by vmwales

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