For me character creation has become not just easy, but one of my favourite parts of writing. I know that some others struggle with it. How do writers create memorable, unique characters that their readers fall in love with and root for? Because let’s face it, the plot can be fantastic, but if the main character is flat, we may never follow through to the end of their story.
Fortunately the answer is all around us. Whenever we’re in a public place, or at home with just a few people, all you need is the “O” word. “OBSERVE.”
People aren’t generic. We all have “qualities” and not just the physical sort, like moles, freckles, birthmarks, scars.
When you sit in a coffee shop, library, or work cafeteria–observe. People have a million different habits, speech patterns, ways of moving, gesticulating, making facial expressions. There are the slurpers, noisily drinking coffee while it’s still too hot. Tea drinkers with health bars to eat. There’s a lady daintily breaking off tiny pieces of a muffin because biting off it would smear her hot pink lipstick. A man who dabs off his mustache after every sip of his frothy latte. A child stretching their gum out across the table longer and longer while the mother and grandmother are poring over a brides magazine.
When walking in the mall, notice how people walk, sluffing their feet, stepping high, toes out, toes in so far they tend to trip. See how they stop and look in shop windows, walking boldly by the sales personnel or skirting the edges of the store to avoid being greeted. Do they point to stuff or pick it up? Some people like me have to feel everything. Others touch seldom and then wipe their fingers off on their pants or a tissue when done.
Out in the park or street, some people walk casually, others slouch, some strut. Someone will bob their head while walking, their earbuds in. Another has a dog on a line pulling them hither and yon. One has a pink poodle in a fancy rhinestone carrier bag. A young fellow constantly rubs his fingertips together while waiting for the bus. A girl in bohemian clothes rolls a cigarette in her lips, never lighting it.
Big family gatherings? Great fodder. Joe always pulls his pocket watch out at dinner and sets it three minutes behind the mantel clock. Once an hour Harold checks to make sure the cover hasn’t blown off his Mercedes. Aunt Pru asks mother everyday for a new bar of soap; she can’t be expected to use the one from the previous day–it’s all germy now. Carol and her twin dye a streak of their hair a different colour for each exam, or they will fail in school. Barney, however he fits in the family no one even knows, has worn a different tie every day for the last 34 years and always says “hiveway” instead of “highway.”
I really do know a “Barney.” People do have strange habits and also strange fears and capitalizing on these things creates characters that intrigue and interest your readers.
So whenever you’re in a public place, take time out from whatever you’re doing and note some observations on a notepad. Collect observations like gold. Then use them to draw from when you have as character that needs fleshing out. It becomes a productive and stimulating game of solitaire.