Saving Real-life Memorable Characters

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My son asked me this week, “Are you still writing?” Oh yes, always writing, but in the collecting/research/learning stage. Books are still in progress. Part of my process is collecting characters.

When developing characters, I like to pull from people I’ve observed when I’m out and about. This morning…I found a gold mine!

It was 9:00am, and I was watching the news, eating breakfast, and totally forgot about an appointment. A calendar reminder flashed up on my laptop, I had an “oh crap” moment, then took a shower, dressed, put the garbage out, and made it to my appointment in 20 minutes. Definitely a hectic morning, until I spotted a woman walking down the sidewalk. I was transfixed!

This woman was heading towards downtown, barefoot, with feet blackened enough to let me know that this wasn’t her first trip. She was wearing thin purple workout pants that hung loosely on her slender frame, and some old hat over her hair, which hung in grayish brown dreadlocks almost down to her waist, and right away I wondered what lived in there. She was also smoking with one hand, and carrying a 1/2 empty container of instant coffee, you know, like the kind you used to see years before designer coffees were so popular (do they really call them “designer” coffees…I don’t know).

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Several questions came to my mind. Where was she going? How far would she go barefoot? Would she ride public transportation that way? Why the coffee? Was she on a quest to find a styrofoam cup and some hot water? How long had she been wearing her hair like that, and why because clearly it was not her best look. What circumstances and choices had brought her to this point? And to me, all those questions confirmed that I had found a very interesting character, that and the fact that other drivers were staring at her, too. She was definitely going to find a place in one of my stories, where I could answer all those questions, and I drove on knowing that, I would be preserving her character beyond her little stroll down the sidewalk this morning.

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