Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Finding Interesting Characters

Afternoon at Fiesole--1926-1929--Baccio Maria BacciLiving in suburban Charlotte, NC, I don’t meet a wildly different array of people in my usual, everyday life. Everyone is, of course, different from each other (different talents, different personalities, etc.). But we’ve all got more in common with each other than not.

Most of the people that I see on a day to day basis are other parents. We interact with each other through our children’s activities. Some go to work, some volunteer. We go to book club, out to dinner, to church, or to the movies. We visit while waiting to pick up our kids from Scouts, art class, or drama. We tidy our homes and do yard work.

There are slight variations on the same theme.

And then I went to the guitar store.

The guitar store visit was necessitated by my son’s interest in taking lessons. My husband has an 1980s-era Kramer electric guitar,which he’d already stopped playing by the time I met him in college.

So we walk in, holding the (very old) guitar case. And I have a feeling we looked just as exotic to the tattooed, pierced, black-tee-shirted people in the guitar store as they looked to us.

“Wow,” my husband said. “We’re old. And boring!”

I agreed with him.

“Well, let’s drop off the guitar with the repair guy and leave,” he said.

But I was more interested in hanging out and watching these folks for a while. They were so different. And different is always good when I’m collecting character traits and mannerisms.

I don’t think my husband was as thrilled at hanging out in the guitar store as I was. “You’ve got rock musicians in your next mystery?” he asked with some degree of surprise.

No, I definitely didn’t. But that’s the nice thing about creating characters—you can take little bits and pieces of people and meld them together to create a new person. It sounds a little Frankensteinish, but it works well. It does help, though, to see some different kinds of people from time to time.

Unfortunately, the guitar store made staring at people difficult. There wasn’t a café area where I could watch them and listen to them without being too obvious. I lingered as long as I could before we finally left.

Even if I don’t use the people I’ve seen, the experience tends to inspire me. It gets my neurons firing to see all the different possibilities of character appearance and personality and dress and manner.

I haven’t done any really good people-watching for a while and I think my well is running dry. Starbucks isn’t doing it for me (more of the same suburban types.)

Does people-watching help you add a little color to your characters? And—where has the watching been good, lately?