Saturday, October 24, 2009

Characters from The Real World

It's been a while since I have experienced this but today, everyone I looked at became a character for a story.
There were the four pre-teen girls dancing down the sidewalk to the Big Band Music blaring out of the speakers at the Classic Car Show that I took the boys to today. The four best buddies were suddenly tap dancers on stage to me.
Then there was the old man who looked like a modern day John Wayne. He was sitting next to his car smoking a cigar, trying to look tough but you could read all over his face that he was really a softie in disguise. He was playing a part.
Next was the fifty-something year old lady dressed up for Halloween I suppose. She wore cat ears and striped, speckled knee socks with matching shorts and blouse that made her look like a giant piece of candy corn. She suddenly became this theatre actress in my mind. I almost heard her singing a show tune as she sprung past me on the sidewalk.
There is not much I don't notice about watching people. (No, I'm not a stalker, just a people-watcher. Writers do that sometimes.) I sometimes wonder what people think and what their stories are. I hope they don't mind me watching them. It's fascinating. I love watching children and seeing the joy of innocence and the delight of learning. I love watching them with their grandparents or an older sibling. There is so much to be learned about life and relationships when doing this.
Most of my writing has been non-fiction but I have dabbled in fiction a little too. My fiction has utilized a memory of people I've seen or known and incorporated it into a character. I don't write all my characters that way but take bits and pieces from people I've known or met and meld them into a character that interests me.
What do you do? How do you invent characters? Do you people-watch too? (Not stalk. That is weird. I'm speaking of a glance or two out of curiosity.)
It's kind of fun trying to match a shopper walking out of the mall with the car they are about to unlock. I guess. Sometimes I'm right. Other times I have been quite surprised. I've learned so much about people. For instance, I've seen an older man approach and unlock a sports car and try to act youthful. I've seen a well-built gentleman look around nervously as he climbed into a mini-van or beater (that's what New Yorkers call a beat up car). Human nature is revealed through the body language and facial expressions of the people around me. Of course one should be careful of becoming judgemental as well. Observation sometimes misses details because they are not evident at first glance.
As Christians we have someone watching us but it is not because they want to write a story about us. Or is it? God had plans written for our lives before time began. The devil would like to re-write those details. We need to portray what is true to our faith and be aware that we are being watched both by God and the devil. Our lives are in God's hands. The steps of a good man or woman are ordered by the Lord and He delights in them.
There are also other witnesses watching us. They may be other characters in the story of our lives. What do the other characters see about and in us? What do our actions tell about us?
I have lots of flaws. I have feet of clay. I know others do not see perfection in me. I don't expect them to. I share it all. The good, the bad and the ugly. Through it all, however, I hope that people see this frail body and weak will to be dominated by a spirit that loves God and people. Even in my people watching, I pray. If I see a sad face, an angry soul, a lonely heart or hear hollow laughter, I realize that although the people I am watching make good characters for my stories, they are also real world people with real world needs, just like me.
Maybe this sounds too wacky to you. I just had to give you a look inside my head for a minute. This is what I think: We can learn a ton about writing from life and piles about life from writing.
What kinds of things have you learned from your characters or even people from whom you created aspects of your characters? What do you think that life has taught you about writing or what has writing has taught you about life?
Leave a comment, please. I'd love to hear your opinions.


JoJo Tabares said...

It is commendable that you take the time to watch people and notice their need for prayer. In these busy times, most don't take the time even to help when someone is struggling. Our power of observation is given to us by the Lord in order that we may support each other. All too often this support is replaced by the busy-ness of the modern day.

I don't write fiction so I don't really write characters but I do think you learn a great deal about your audience when you know people. If you don't know your audience, how can you communicate with them effectively?

Cristy said...

What a great post. I, too, love to people watch and try to figure out what their stories are. Or sometimes create one for them.

You've definitely got my mind working. Not an easy task.

Jill said...

I most definitely get inspiration from the real world! People I work with, family, a guy in a coffee shop, a woman on a bus, the teller at my bank... Everyone I have ever met in one way or another informs and influences my characters. Absolutley.

The thing is, though, my characters are never based on any one person. A character may have my neighbour's sense of humour, my cousin's physical appearance, my boss's personality, and my boyfriend's background.

And I will add in quirks and ticks that I see here and there: a twitch, a mannerism, a figure of speech.

This is all part of what makes writing so much fun!

Cheers, Jill

Terri Tiffany said...

Many good questions:) I've learned alot about people by watching them too. I take that information and it teaches me lessons of life that I hope I can convey through my writing:)