Sunday, January 29, 2012


One of the most critical aspects of writing is the ability to create interesting characters that develop and evolve within the story. I love creating characters. They become vivid and real in my mind, and I come to care about them deeply. Even the bad ones. They always have some backstory that led them to the place and circumstances the reader finds them in, and because I know their fictional "history," I empathize with them even as I figure out how they will meet their date with eternal justice.

Where do great characters come from? Many of their physical and emotional characteristics are driven by the storyline--I make them fit the role I'm casting them into. But the small incidentals that make them rich and vivid often come from life--from people watching.

I love noticing small each uniqueness about people. I do look for interesting physical attributes, like stand-out hairstyles and "speak" to the world. But it's the idiosyncrasies that flesh out a character and bring them from flat to three-dimensional in the reader's mind. Things like curious speech patterns, make up application, a quirky walk or stance or habit like repetitive blinking or an interesting voice.

And I find true gems in the most ordinary places, for instance, today I was watching a gentleman conduct music. He was a burly man who I pegged as an aging athlete--probably a football player. He had tough guy written all over him, but there he was, beating out a four/four pattern, and I do mean "beating."

His arm was tight and stiff, requiring the assistance of his entire shoulder to articulate the appendage into proper position. And when it swung it achieved more of a swoop, almost appearing as if a sword should have been in his hand, coming down upon a enemy's head, or a large melon.

What I found most endearing about this sweet and willing chorister was the way he ended a musical phrase--not with a gentle circle, and not with the closing of a thumb and forefinger, but with an animated closing of his fist, as if he were clamping down upon a fly in mid-flight. You definitely got the message that it was time to stop singing and breathe in preparation for the next entrance.

His expression was one of pure joy. He loves directing the music! And he was very effective and easy to follow despite his stiff appearance. As I watched him I thought how he would make a perfect model for the saying, "Grow where you are planted." Someone planted him in what appeared to have once been an uncomfortable post, and yet he rose to the challenge and learned to love it.

So today's entry in my physical character list will be a stiff-armed ex-jock/chorister. And in the personality section I'll describe a tough guy who was given an uncharacteristic assignment, who rose to the challenge and came off conqueror. Sounds like a noble character, doesn't it?

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