Character Sketch Confessions: I Play God and I Like It

May 27, 2011

I finished the first draft on a manuscript yesterday, and I set it aside. Before I move on to editing, I give myself a few days to let the story fade. I hurry the process along by starting work on a new manuscript, which means I turn my attentions to sketching new characters and plots.

I love this part.

I love creating characters. “Sketching” them is my favorite part about the writing process. Sometimes it starts with something simple, like a name. Other times it starts with a face, maybe one I glanced at on the street…or at a stadium, which is the case for the manuscript I’m plotting now.

I spend an inordinate amount of time at stadiums, so the fact that my current hero got his humble beginnings from a passing glance as I sat two rows behind him during a game shouldn’t be surprising. What did surprise me was the power in that moment. (Disclaimer: I am happily married.) When the man reached an arm across the seat of the child sitting next to him, crossed an ankle over his knee and looked over his shoulder, our eyes met. Physically attractive, yes. But there was so much more running through my mind.

Who was the little boy? His son? His nephew? His girlfriend’s kid? Was the man wearing a wedding ring? Why wasn’t he wearing a wedding ring? How old? How tall? What did he do for a living? How did he sound? How did he smell? Where was he from? Boxers or briefs? Six-pack or flab?

Married or not, I’m not the kind of girl who walks up to strangers and randomly asks their life stories. Nope. I’m the kind of girl who goes home, sits at her computer and makes up their life stories.

I play God, and I like it.

Doctors get accused of playing God too, but I think my way is better. No real lives are at stake. No non-compliant patients threaten my career and sanity (although non-compliant characters make me moody). It’s less messy my way. I see a person. He or she sparks my interest, and I go home, dreaming about who they are and what they do.

So back to “the man”…

After our initial eye contact, I followed the man and his child companion from our seats into the “club” area. The man stopped abruptly at the top of the stairs before he opened the glass door, and I bumped into him. (I swear to God I didn’t do it on purpose. Subconsciously? Maybe.) He turned, smiled as I apologized and then held the door for me. I walked in, reminding myself to breathe. He walked passed and ushered the little one into the men’s room. Figuring it bordered on creepy to stand around and wait until they reappeared, I ordered a drink and returned to my seat where I happily watched the man and designed stories for his life during the rest of the game.

I called my girlfriend that night and described the hardly-a-meeting. “He’s my next hero,” I gushed.

She laughed and reminded me that since I sit in the same seats every game maybe I should introduce myself if he shows up again.

He didn’t. (I looked.) And even if he had I would’ve never taken my friend’s advice—and not because I worry about me having an affair (see disclaimer above).

Whoever he is, the man is better left in my head where he can be flawed but redeemed and challenged but victorious, where his voice is the right pitch and his hands work magic every time, where he never grows old, never gets fat and his bank account is endless, where the woman he loves is his perfect match and they live happily ever after.

I like playing God. I like giving everyone a happy ending. How about you?

Have you been inspired to create characters from a real life encounter? Do you enjoy sketching/creating your heroes and heroines, or do you find it difficult to manipulate fictional lives? I’d love to know.


3 Responses to “Character Sketch Confessions: I Play God and I Like It”

  1. Joanne Robinson Says:

    my new hero is based on a cabin crew guy i had on my recent trip to portugal. although it wasn’t me he gazed at … it was the bloke in the seat next to me(Not hubby, other side) Tall dark Mediterranean looks and … oh …..YES.

    MM then A photo in a newspapaer ad, and his partner was born… hot or what? both of them….

  2. Tari Says:

    First, congratulations on finishing your manuscript!!

    Love the way you ‘met’ your hero! And, there’s something to be said for leaving him in your head. Maybe after you’ve written your story, you’ll get the chance to introduce yourself and learn who he is!

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