Dreamin’ up your main characters takes a lot of thought. They should appeal to the reader in unique ways and come across larger than life. This is harder to do than you might think. A hero or heroine must rise to the plot conflicts or why else would a reader follow their story? You have to show a hero’s strength early if he carries an immobile woman up a mountain later. If he’s not strong make him MacGyver smart. Make them a mish-mash of good and almost bad, but whatever you do make them memorable. Secondary characters allow more creativity but you have to make sure they don’t overshadow the main protagonist. Before you dream the characters for your story make a study of the people around you.
Notice the characteristics of the shy person versus the out-going and popular. Watch how they handle the same situations. A good looking man, but techno failure, will use his charm to get women to do his work. I’ve seen this happen over and over. Amazing what two dimples and a complement can do, but observe how the other women react. You want to record their facial expressions or mannerisms. I watched one woman in my office log the younger woman’s favor on an Excel spreadsheet and another unbuttoned the two top buttons of her blouse. Watch who makes the coffee every day and note if they drink it or not. If they do drink coffee do they have a procedure like two sugars and six stirs every time? Do they carry a travel mug of coffee with them everywhere? I worked with a nurse that always drew cartoons on her Styrofoam cup before pouring coffee in it. Watch who agitates interpersonal conflicts at work and then gets lost. Watch who always does the monthly birthday parties and try to figure out why. Watch who is the true leader of a group versus the designated leader. Steal their mannerisms, the slang they use, or even their clothing choices. Recognize a cliche like smacking gum and don’t use it. Try instead a guy that sprays perfume in his mouth instead of breath freshener, and not just any perfume, but a fragrance called Delicious or better yet–Kiss Me. I’d remember him, wouldn’t you?
This happened around me today. I spent the day in a class getting my continuing education credits so I could renew my nursing license. I took the time to observe my fellow classroom participants because every writer knows a good character stands out. It’s really not the basics, eye or hair color, that makes a character memorable, but what they do or say. So, right off the bat before class began, a woman says she left nursing to sell real estate and now that the market had turned to quicksand she wanted back in. Well, a tired nurse staying up from working night shift kinda growled, “not with those claws.”
The real estate-nurse became offended. She held up a perfectly manicured hand with fake polished nails and said, “My hands are hygienic, thank you very much.”
“How are they hygienic?” another amused nurse asked.
“I dried the polish under a UV light.”
Naturally, people snorted, snickered, and then everyone cracked up. Real-estate nurse was a good sport, but I could see she was confused.
Dreamin’ this character into a story might look like this: A writer could have her perform tasks with just her finger pads while making sure the nails never touched anything. A writer could remark on the number of latex gloves she punctured and how much it cost. A writer could have her forced to clean up something nasty and it stains her nails. A writer could have her freak out while walking to her car at night and because she’s scared she rams those nails into the door handle breaking several down to the quick. Her screams make someone else call 911. She could break her arm and the doctor removes the nails so circulation checks could be done. Later, she drops one of the removed nails at a crime scene. She could stab herself in the eye when inserting contacts-every day. Her pocket-purse dog could nibble on them like a treat. A bad guy could torture her by using duct tap to yank off her nails when he wants her bank account’s PIN. Despite the trouble she has from time to time the lady would never dream of going without her nails. In fact, she’d lose her lip gloss or mascara before she would face the public without a perfect manicure. These custom designed nails become her tag, a character trademark, that makes her stand out in a story. Okay, I like the pocket purse dog nibbling on them the best, you?
Another time I was on a flight with a guy that set his watch to alarm when it was time to take his health supplements. On a two hour flight his watch alerted him four times. He would pull them out, swallow, and then try to tell me how he sustained the healthful effects by doing it this way in small doses all day long. I couldn’t help imagining him lurking behind a desk while a robbery-murder is going down and his watch shrills out an alarm to notify the killer there is a witness.
In Body Wave, a minor character says, “White slacks pick up everything but a man.” One of my favorite patients told me that one day as she tried to remove dark lint from her pants. I put it in my story and you should do the same if you hear a catchy phrase.
Take what happens in your daily life and write it down. When it comes time to insert a character into your story read through the list and use your phrases and observations. What are some of your ideas?