Finding Characters in All the Right Places

Thursday, July 27, 2017
I’m never one to turn down a great idea, so when my husband suggested we try writing a script for a sitcom, I jumped on board. We had a clever idea, but needed interesting characters to fill it.

As I pondered this problem, my eyes wandered out the window. It was a beautiful morning. The oppressive Virginia humidity had not yet set in, and our neighbors were outside, grooming their lawns. We’ve only lived in this house for six months, but we know many of our neighbors by now. There’s the couple who run a pizza place. The newlyweds. The family who has a massive trampoline that all the neighborhood children treat as their own. The couple with a newborn who insist on using a plug-in lawnmower. The couple who eats all their meals at a table in their garage. So many different people in such close quarters.

I didn’t just see my neighbors. I saw inspiration.

When people find out I write books, one of the first questions I’m asked is if my characters are based on real people. My answer? Yup. They sure are.

You see, people ARE characters. Their lives practically write themselves. If you think about how complex people are – their likes and dislikes, their quirky nuances, their jobs (interesting or boring) – THIS is the stuff of which characters are made.

They aren’t hard to find. Think about your coworkers – that one who does that annoying thing you can’t stand. Character. How about the quirky woman at the beach – the one who prances across the sand and stops every twenty-five yards to throw her hands at the sky (yes, I saw this yesterday). Character. Or how about your best friend – the one whose secrets you’ve kept she was five? Modify her looks and age and voila! Character. Your friend will never even recognize herself.

To find interesting characters for your writing, all you need to do is pay attention. Potential characters already exist in your life. And if you think everyone in your life is boring, head to the beach, or the park, or the mall. Multi-dimensional characters are everywhere, and they are ripe for the picking.

Do you have a hidden resource for character ideas? Share it in the comments!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Bethany--Unfortunately, I don't have any secret resources to share. I do what most writers do. I observe people. I eavesdrop. I take notes when I hear a tidbit I definitely don't want to forget.

I agree with you. Characters are everywhere. We simply have to open our eyes and take note.

Beth said...

I should have mentioned that writing down what you see in the moment is crucial! I use the notes app on my phone all the time!

Margo Dill said...

I think TV shows and movies can give you ideas for characters too. You aren't copying but they can help you brainstorm as a starting point.

Beth said...

Margo - I agree! Sometimes I'll even "invert" a character from a book I read, making sort of an opposite or "bizarro world" character.

Mary Horner said...

Great post, I like to use the notes app on my phone also to get a detail or characteristic just right!

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