Characters are everywhere. Inspiration can be found for them in both the most obvious places and, at times, from the most unexpected.
Take for example when I was searching for inspiration for my Short Story course: I sat in the food court at the mall, alone, eating my Chinese noodles with chopsticks, (I wonder if I’m a character in someone else’s story?) and I people-watched. I do this as often as I can.
While I was slurping up my noodles, I noticed a thirty-something man, casually dressed, walking with an elderly lady on his arm. The woman was just about ready for a walker, but if she’s anything like my own mother, she probably wasn’t ready to admit it. Plot and conflict came to me instantaneously. All I had to do was look at the man and figure out what his problem might be. He became a guy with a career and a weird fetish. His elderly mother could no longer take care of herself so he was faced with the decision of either living his life the way he wanted to, or looking after his mother. At that moment the short story, “On Loyalty” was born, for which I received a mark of A+.
Settings, for me, are the light bulb that rarely flashes inspiration but when it does, it’s usually brilliant – not me, the light bulb. The main characters in my novel came from an abandoned bicycle (who left it there and where were they going?) and a burned out railroad station (a mad magician takes his kidnap victims there to experiment on making them disappear). I put the two together and ended up with a 214K word novel. The mad magician turned into a good guy, but here you can see where I got the idea from. The train station makes an appearance in the story – fixed up and turned into a night club.
Characters can be found in the strangest places. I think even non-writers get ideas for people they see – it’s part of what we do as human beings when we notice the way people are dressed and listen to the way they talk. Yes, it’s slightly judgmental, but whether or not we comment on it, our brains connect situations from past experience to what we are seeing – like it or not.
Do you ever consciously do it? Do you sometimes make up stories for people you see? And if you’re a writer, what is the weirdest place you’ve found a character for a story?
For the corresponding short fiction on the subject of finding characters, click here: http://lindaghillfiction.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/f-is-for-friends-will-be-friends/