Writing involves many exciting jobs in preparation, like reading or researching, memorizing a thesaurus, or maybe even travelling. The best task, though, is the people watching. We all do it, whether we want to admit it or not. As writers, we have an excuse; to find new characters!
Characters can either make or break a story, do you have to make sure they’re great ones. The only way to do that realistically is by basing them off of ear leak people, am I right? What are some of the places that you go to in order to get interesting people to watch? I love going to the mall to do it, but unless you sit in the food court, you don’t get to see people for longer than 20 seconds.
The most important part of people watching is to get a variety, and the food court is a great place for that. Also, you can overhear conversations and not down some great pieces of dialogue. The quick turn over always offers lots of people to eavesdrop on and makers you inconspicuous because no one I will notice you sitting there for extended periods of time.
When I’m hunting for a good character, I tend to watch for big groups of people. The best thing about a large group is that it holds the most options for the perfect character. If you’re starting from scratch, the different options are endless in a group of just four people. If you’re starting from a few characteristics – shy, loud, gentle, brave – then that makes a group fun in the sense that you can take characteristics that match the personality that you want, and create a strong, round character.
Finding your protagonist in a crowd isn’t hard, but one character that can be hard (and a lot of fun) to find, is your antagonist. Usually, they’re loners that are obsessed with revenge, or maybe they’re the popular “it” girl with identical drones giggling at everything they say and do. Regardless, essentially every person exists at the mall, and with the right skills and knowledge, can be found.
Antagonists can typically be found in stores, particularly in long lines that are moving at a snail’s pace. Those bring out the ugly in just about everyone, so you’ll find the bad and shady characteristics there. The same thing goes for the ones arguing with the cashiers. They have all the traits you can want for a kick-butt antagonist.
The mall works in finding new characters so well because people tend to relax, they figure that there are too many people to worry about being watched. At first, the “prim and proper” personality is up in front of the real personality and everything is correct and polite. By the time they’re ready to leave the food court or the store, though, they have started to let their guard down and their real personality shine through, allowing you to get to the good stuff.
That all being said, the best dialogue, plot twists, or personality traits can hit at anytime, so, like all writers advise, always have a pen and paper on you for just such an occasion. Characters are crucial, so don’t use the stock ones because you can’t think of anything else. Possibilities are all around you, so there is no excuse not to have a great character.
What do you see as the most important element in a story? Do you prefer to read about stock or original characters? What are some examples of strong characters?