I'm a very character-driven writer and reader. I love well-crafted characters. And I've always been a people watcher. You see or overhear a snippet of a conversation, you see a little slice of that person's life. Those of us with an active imagination will know that it can be enough to spark a story. Or ten.
Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender's Game once said:
Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.
If you're ever stuck, people-watching is an invaluable tool in your character creation kit. Living in London is amazing. When I'm not scribbling in my notebook or reading a book, I'm people watching.
Of course, it's all fiction. I doubt that the white-haired, dignified man I sat opposite last week who was reading official-looking documents probably wasn't an ex-M16, ostensively retired, but actually on a secret mission to find his long-lost brother. Doesn't matter, in my head he is.
Creating backstory for the random people I encounter is one of my favourite hobbies.
I think a lot of writers feel like that. Forget 'all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players'. Writers are more like the narrators of other people's lives.
Lisa was your average, hardworking single mum living and working in London. She would have been destined to stay so, had seen not missed her usual tube to her shift at Tescos. Today, on the Kennington via Charing Cross line, on a train that had arrived only two minutes later, she would find her call to adventure, irresistible to ignore.
You get the idea. That's how we create characters.
If you're struggling to think of your character's outfit, keep your eyes open. Maybe you'll pass someone on the street modelling your character's look. That's why we keep our notebooks close at all times. Maybe you'll hear a joke which you can weave into your dialogue or an anecdote you can turn into a story. Or you've decided, for some inexplicable reason, your character simply must have an exotic way of speaking but you have no idea what that sounds like. In a big city like London, you're guaranteed to hear speech patterns and accents from all around the world.
In short, I found I felt my least creative when I was plugged into my headphones or watching something on my phone.
Obviously, sometimes you want to read a book or listen to a podcast. But don't forget, no writer writes in a vacuum. We are creatures of our environment, so once in a while, experience the world around you! Your creative soul will thank you.
And if you're looking for help in creating characters, K. M. Weiland has an incredible wealth of articles to point you in the right direction.
Here's another question. Where do you get your ideas from?
What sure-fire ways do you have of finding your characters? Are you a people watcher too? Let me know your thoughts!