Life in progress

F is for … Finding Characters


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:

Author: Linda G. Hill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

28 thoughts on “F is for … Finding Characters

  1. Hmm…I don’t have a good story for the weirdest place that I’ve ever found a character (sometimes, to be honest, my characters just end up being a type that I’d want to meet in real life), but I always want to play that “backstory” pub game. How to play? Sit in a pub. Have a beverage. Watch people & come up with their potential backstories. (I have to admit, though, that I usually come up with happy stories for them…)
    Oh! But I have also just heard snippets of conversation on the bus or in the park that end up sticking with me….usually incredibly stupid things, so those stories aren’t quite so complimentary. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  2. I love people watching and I have to admit that I make up stories for their lives as well. lol


  3. People watching? Me?


  4. I might be crazy… all my characters are already in my head… trying to get out! ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Haha! You’re not crazy. Most of mine live in mine too. After all, if they were real, there’d be a lot more weirdos wandering the streets. ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Thanks for the comment, Becky ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. I like to watch people, when I am out too. Just watch and listen. Then the brain has something to work out ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. You’re so right. I love to go to Williams and open up my laptop and write, but watch at the same time. One of my favorite things to do….but no one wants to do it with me. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ


    • Too bad we don’t live closer together. I’d come. ๐Ÿ™‚ Then people could sit close by and point at us and say, “Look at them! They’re not even talking to each other!” haha


  7. I don’t typically make stories for people I see. I’m always scared I’ll reveal it somehow and get in a fight. The strangest place I ever got an idea for a character has to be a strip club at a bachelor party. Just came to me and I actually talked the idea over with the stripper to make sure I didn’t forget it. Apparently, I missed the point of strip clubs.


  8. I eavesdrop. I judge. I even do it on FaceBook, where a friend of mine has a fascinating looking friend (read: hot), so I see where the rabbit hole takes me. It’s not always a hot friend, but generally. And I judge. I’m okay with that. Fortunately there are so many “Don’t judge” people, they rarely judge me for judging.


  9. Oh yes, it’s one of my favorite things ever! I used to go to the airport, but since 9-11, one really can’t hang out in terminals anymore. Now, I’ll do it here and there, but then I really did discover amazing characters. My most interesting characters are usually stolen from strangers who tell me the strangest things…in a doctor’s office, in line at the grocery, in the women’s room…Bizarre things, lol!


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